Fleeing from an unwanted marriage contract - bound by magic, no less - meek, submissive Eleanor Moreau decides she's not going to lie back and accept her fate. She's going to find the Wizard responsible for her predicament and give him a piece of her mind. Or, she would, if she could figure out the mysteries of Oakston city first, a place where the supernatural draws no more attention than a pigeon might. On top of that, she needs to find a way to work with the gruff Inspector Felix Wallis and his Magician of a landlord.
PART 1: Rebirth
To be perfectly fair, neither of them had much say in the matter.
She had been nothing more than a few months old, and had spent the vast majority of her waking hours waving at anyone that deigned to look her way with her chubby little hands, giggling and cooing, and winning hearts in the way that only babies could. She remained blissfully unaware of her father already mapping out her future for her in the very next room, and of her mother, barely cold in her grave.
No, in the mind of little Eleanor Moreau, her world was perfect.
As for the boy, he had been no more than seven years old, and had not the faintest idea what marriage was, beyond the fact that he would be spending the rest of his life with her. Lord Gathony had merely ruffled his son's hair, and said that it was all For The Good Of The Family, and that he would understand With Time. The seven year old had then gazed down at the tiny bundle of life, and thought that if marriage meant looking after the tiny wrinkly red… thing for the rest of his life, then there was something very wrong with the whole matter. Even then, he knew better to say his thoughts out loud, and had responded with an obedient, "Yes, father."
But the boy was smart, and it wasn't long until he found out what marriage truly meant. It wasn't long after that when he figured out what an arranged marriage was, and it took only a second for him to decide on a course of action.
The boy kept his head down, and obediently studied whatever his father deigned to throw his way. He was the very picture of contrite respectfulness – as if the thought of defying his family was a ridiculous notion.
His tutors knew he was smart – he excelled in all his studies. Lord Gathony knew his son was stubborn – a trait which was inherited. In hindsight, they should have all seen it coming.
On his eighteenth birthday, Lord Gathony's eldest son, Keith Gathony, travelled from his home, the Gathony estate in the country Bio-Domes, to the grimy city of Oakston on a day out to celebrate his coming of age.
On his eighteenth birthday, Keith Gathony also neglected to mention that he was not coming back, and had no intentions of getting hitched with a girl whom the last time he checked – eleven years ago, since the betrothed were technically not allowed to meet each other until the wedding day, as per tradition – was still in the crib. No, he had no intentions of marrying a girl who, like him, had been forced into this arrangement.
He was going to take hold of his own life, thank you very much. Had he been more insolent and wished to further insult his family, he would have left a note along the lines of
Gone to make my own living. Sorry for the inconvenience.
It was a tale that Eleanor was familiar with. A story, a child's story, of a girl locked up in her tower for her whole life, until she was rescued by a handsome prince. A lesser known aspect of the story was that Rapunzel had only been locked up by the wicked Gothel because her mother had the most unfortunate cravings at the wrong time, and her father the inability to say no, resulting in a small act of thievery of a few vegetables and the ire of one angry woman who perhaps cared about her vegetable garden just a little too much.
Eleanor wondered if her father had done something similar. It would certainly explain why, for her entire eighteen years of her life, she had never set foot beyond the boundaries of the manor, and never put a toe over the line of the Bio-Dome. All her studies, all her lessons, took place within the manor.
On a warm spring's afternoon, such as the one today, where bees buzzed sleepily among the flowers, and the sunlight peeked through the distorting translucent force-field of the Bio-Dome, Eleanor would lie down on the grass in a quiet corner of the giant garden, and think.
It was one of those days, several years ago, that Eleanor found herself wondering if she was to blame for her current state of affairs. Her betrothed – Keith? Kyle? She couldn't remember – had disappeared into the city of Oakston, and had not bothered to reappear, much to the fury of both their fathers. She had managed to put up a brave front, lasting long enough to excuse herself and kept a straight face before the eleven-year-old finally reached her bedroom, locked the door, and spent the next ten minutes dancing about with joy.
Perhaps she had been too young to understand then. For the moment, all she cared about was that she did not have to get married, and ironically enough, she had her betrothed to thank for that. For the moment, she did not have to worry. She did not have to fear spending the rest of her life with a stranger. She did not have to live a life in which she had no say in. At least, for the moment…
The moment was soon to be over, the eighteen-year-old mused sourly as she idly played with a blade of grass between her fingers, for she was older now and she suspected that her father had just about run out of patience. The marriage contract, designed to bind the Gathony and Moreau family together, was still valid. Eleanor had read enough books to know that – arranged marriages, especially ones between families as large as the Moreau and Gathony, weren't just a simple matter of joining a man and woman together in matrimony.
No, it was more than that. Someone – and Eleanor was decidedly not scowling at the thought of Lord Gathony – had the brilliant idea of fetching a wizard and making the contract for them. Unbreakable and binding until death, and a body had yet to turn up for the Gathony son. Allegedly, there were consequences for breaking such contracts, more specifically, magical consequences which may or may not involve the loss of life of both parties involved. Eleanor did not want to test that theory, but the same could not be said for her father, regardless of the arguments of Lord Gathony.
Eleanor figured that if the eldest Gathony son did not have the decency to reappear at any time in the past ten years, Eleanor doubted that he was going to reappear at all.
And she envied him.
Eleanor sighed, and closed her eyes. If only she had been born a boy. If only she was allowed out of the Bio-Dome, and to anywhere else, for even just a day. If only she had siblings. There were too many 'if only's to ponder.
Sadly, Eleanor was an only child and born a girl, and that meant marriage, legal contract or no. Eleanor may not have known her father well, but certainly knew enough to know that he'd try to break the contract, consequences be damned, and marry her off – if, indeed, she was still alive after the attempt.
And there was nothing she could do about it.
Eleanor rolled onto her back lazily, not caring that she looked as unladylike as possible right now, and had her etiquette tutor seen her, she would be weeping. Eleanor squinted as the rare rays of sunlight hit her eyes, before closing them to let the warmth wash over her face. She found her mind drifting again; what would the air taste like, outside of the Bio-Dome? What was the city like?
She watched a wispy grey cloud roll over the Bio-Dome. It looked rather like a rabbit.
Was Oaken a nice place to live? Where would Lord Gathony's son be? Why did he leave? Was there something wrong with her? Was that why she was locked up-?
"Miss Eleanor!" Margaret all but shrieked, causing the younger woman to sit up with a start and scramble to her feet.
"Margaret!" Eleanor began dusting off her clothes quickly, shaking loose the grass and leaves. "Is everything alright?"
"My dear, you're a mess!" Margaret scolded, even as she started picking at the leaves still sticking to Eleanor's thick, blonde locks. "Eighteen years old and acting like a child, rolling in the grass. Why, haven't the etiquette lessons taught you anything?"
"Margaret," Eleanor smiled briefly, "is there a reason why you were looking for me? I do believe I don't have any lessons today."
The maid, who had been Eleanor's life-long companion, suddenly stopped in her fussing, and looked uncomfortable.
"It's your father, dear." Margaret admitted after a moment. "I think he will call for you today, about... you know."
Eleanor knew too well. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "Alright. Thank you, Margaret." The reply was automatic, and Eleanor barely remembered her manners.
The grass suddenly seemed less inviting, and the afternoon immediately lost its cheer. As Eleanor turned to return to the manor, she was stopped by a hesitant hand on her arm.
"Miss Eleanor?" Margaret withdrew her hand when it became apparent that Eleanor was not going to turn around. The maid sighed, and looked at the younger woman with sympathy. Margaret herself was still young, barely a day over thirty, and it hurt her to see her mistress – even friend, perhaps – so unhappy. "I…There's something else."
At that, Eleanor finally turned around. "Something else?"
"Yes." Margaret nodded, and looked around furtively to make sure that the two were alone, before pulling out an envelope. "This is for you."
Cautiously, Eleanor took the envelope, and turned it over, frowning at the odd symbol sealing the envelope. "For me? What on earth is this?"
Startled, Eleanor looked at Margaret sharply. "Excuse me?"
"You remember your marriage contract, and how it was overseen by a Wizard?"
Eleanor smiled wryly. How could she forget?
"The wizard knew your father wasn't a believer of magic," Margaret explained quickly, "and somehow, I think he knew your father would attempt such a stupid thing as to break a magical contract, of all the idiotic-"
"Margaret, please," Eleanor grimaced, "I do realise the stupidity of my father's actions, but please, the point of this letter…?"
"I beg your pardon," Margaret apologised quickly, and returned to the matter at hand. "The Wizard foresaw that this day would inevitably come, and left this for you the day he made the contract, should your father ever attempt to tamper with it."
Eleanor scrutinised the envelope in her hands. Truth be told, she was not entirely convinced that such a thing was possible, that anyone could foresee the future, and yet here the envelope was.
Margaret, Eleanor knew, was a lifelong companion, a friendly constant face in a life of isolation, and would not be so cruel as to play such a prank.
"Wizards and fortune telling," Eleanor shook her head, "what has my life come to?"
"Wizards and fortune telling," Margaret echoed dryly, "as you said, Miss Moreau."
Eleanor squared her shoulders and headed up to the manor. She would remain Miss Moreau, if she could help it.
My dearest child,
If you are reading this, then your father must have decided to break the magical contract, the imbecile.
Eleanor blinked at the rather rude declaration, which was followed by another statement matched only in its blunt tone.
I am sorry to say that such an attempt would result in your demise.
Eleanor palmed her face and sighed, leaning back into the armchair in her room. She did not have to see her father at the moment, as upon her return to the manor, she'd learned from Arnold, the butler, that her father was busy in a meeting and would be ready for her in half an hour. For now, she was safe to read the letter, and lament her life.
Eleanor glared half-heartedly at the letter. Knowing her, she'd probably drop dead at the altar if her father attempted to marry her to anyone other than the Gathony son.
You will, the letter continued matter-of-factly, drop dead at the altar if you should marry anyone other than Keith Gathony.
Eleanor twitched a little. Perhaps the fortune telling and wizards statement had some merit after all.
Do try to stop that from happening, won't you, my dear? I suspect poor Mr Keith Gathony won't be comfortable either.
"Poor Mr Keith Gathony, huh?" Eleanor glared harder at the letter, and at the 'M' signed at the bottom. "Some help you are, M."
Lord Peter Moreau considered himself a patient man, and he would be correct in his self-assessment.
But as far as virtues went, that was perhaps the extent of it. It was true, he did indulge every now and then in the drink, and cared little for the well-being of his only child. Granted, he did not allow any harm to come to her, but that was only through denying the girl of any chances to see the outside world, beyond the Bio-Dome of Moreau Manor. (The fact that he may have been preventing Eleanor from pulling the same trick the Gathony boy had done was not one that anyone dared to voice.)
He did not allow many visitors into Moreau Manor – only the regular servants and any necessary visits from his business partners. Eleanor had always been kept out of sight, for the shame of being abandoned by her betrothed was simply too great for him to bear.
Out of sight and out of mind, as he liked to think.
But after seven long years, Lord Moreau's patience was wearing thin, and not everything could be kept out of mind forever.
The day the Gathony boy had disappeared, Lord Moreau had set to looking through the marriage contract, seeking any loophole that allowed for the contract to be broken. He had not found an immediate solution, but there was a solution nonetheless.
He was simply going to tell himself and he did not believe in hocus pocus and all that magic rubbish.
Lord Moreau, for all his patience, was not one to ponder on the wisdom of such an action, unlike his daughter. It was no matter. If the Gathony boy had no intentions of returning, then it would not matter if Eleanor was wed to someone more worthwhile. Someone who could expand the Moreau fortune more than the Gathony family could ever hope to.
Lord Moreau looked over the many offers of marriage, mildly impressed that his daughter, hidden away from the world for so long, could garner so much attention. Perhaps they liked the mystery.
He snorted humourlessly. The mysterious girl in the Manor. How quaint.
The grandfather clock struck four, bringing the man from his thoughts. Right on cue, a soft knock sounded at the door of his study.
"Come in." Lord Moreau called out, and the door creaked open. He put on a warm, fatherly smile for the girl standing in the doorway. "Come in, child. Do not linger at the doorway."
"Father." Eleanor stepped into the room, closed the door behind her and dropped into a curtsey.
"Come, child," Lord Moreau held out a hand as soon as Eleanor rose again, and took her smaller hand in his, "my, my, look at how you have grown."
The expression on Eleanor's face was a result of someone attempting to smile sweetly and not be violently ill at the same time. After all, hearing that one will 'drop dead' was hardly the most comforting thing to hear.
If Lord Moreau had the capacity to notice and concern himself with the worrying expression on Eleanor's face, he dislodged the thought from his head. "Now, Eleanor," he continued, "as you know, child, you are now of age…and despite the…" Lord Moreau paused for a moment, searching for the right words, "…tragedy of your betrothed leaving you, I believe it is time for you to marry, this time to someone more responsible and worthy."
Lord Moreau had expected Eleanor to dip her head, and murmur "Yes, father," just like she had been taught to, but instead, he received a stricken expression.
Yes, Eleanor knew this day was coming – she had known for a long time – but there was still a small part of her that had always hoped that it wouldn't happen.
"Marry?" She repeated, pulling her hands out of her father's grasp.
"Why, yes," Lord Moreau replied patiently, "it is your duty to continue the Moreau family, after all."
"There were many offers," Lord Moreau cut across Eleanor's softly voiced protest, "but I have already chosen for you. A gentleman by the name of Lord Richard Wright was the most suitable match for you-"
"For me?" Eleanor squeaked in horror, the words drop dead at the altar running through her mind like a runaway train, whistling wildly all the time.
"I beg your pardon." It was not a question. Those that heard Lord Moreau take on that tone of voice knew to back down, regardless of who they were.
The runaway train burst out of the other end of Eleanor's brain. "No, no, no, I can't-"
Lord Moreau narrowed his eyes.
"I've read about my original marriage contract," Eleanor continued, voice rising slightly in pitch and panic, "and it cannot be broken, not without consequences!"
"How do you know of this?" Lord Moreau demanded. "Who told you?"
"My books," Eleanor threw her hands up in frustration. "And the Wizard himself said-"
"Lord Gathony was a fool to hire a wizard," Lord Moreau growled. "And surely you, my sensible girl, don't believe in such nonsense?"
"But what if it wasn't nonsense?" Eleanor's wide green eyes beseeched her father. "Would you risk my life for that?"
"Oh, do not worry, child," Lord Moreau waved his hand flippantly. "Don't trouble yourself with such trivialities."
"I said," Lord Moreau cut across Eleanor sharply, "do not worry about it. Leave the matter be. You are marrying Lord Wright-"
"Please," Eleanor began again, hands wringing in fear, "please, don't force me to-"
"That is all I have to say on the matter," Lord Moreau replied with an air of finality. "You will marry Lord Wright by next week. Is that understood?"
Eleanor opened her mouth – and whatever she wanted to say was replaced with a stammered, "Y-yes, sir."
And she curtsied quickly and fled the room.
Two days later, the engagement of Lord Richard Wright and the young Miss Eleanor Moreau was announced, covering the front page of every newspaper. No one batted an eye at the notion of a man, nearly twenty years her senior, marrying the young lady. Nobody worried that Miss Moreau looked perhaps a little pale and withdrawn, even if it was just a photograph.
What did matter was that the heiress of Moreau Industries was finally – finally! – getting married, after seven long years of neglect. However, Lord Moreau, like Lord Gathony, failed to take their offspring's tenacity into account.
For the day after the announcement, Miss Eleanor Moreau ran away.