|As Sure As the Sun Will Rise
Author: Bubble Wrapped Kitty PM
AU. Desperate to get his daughter Isabelle out of London during the height of the German Blitz, Marcus Prentiss is forced to make a dangerous deal with the mysterious owner of Westmoor House. Trapped in the northern castle while her father tries to find a way to save her, Isabelle learns that there is more to her dark host, and maybe even something worth staying for after all.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Belle & Beast/Prince - Chapters: 6 - Words: 16,620 - Reviews: 19 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 30 - Updated: 04-24-13 - Published: 12-25-12 - id: 8834386
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Bellingham, Northumberland - That same morning
Mark Prentiss pulled his ragged coat tighter around his body as he walked the long road through the forest north of Bellingham. He had spent an entire day asking around the city but had no luck. It seemed that most of the people who had room in their houses for guests had already been employed by the government to house children. Near the end of the evening, someone had suggested that he try the next town north, a place called Hareshaw that was tucked away in the forest alongside the river.
He had set out first thing the following morning, after dropping off his latest letter to Isabelle with the postman. It was chilly out in the early morning air, and he was forced to make the trip at a walk, since he hadn't been able to find anyone to give him a ride. As he'd walked he had hoped that someone might drive by that he could hitch a ride from, but it was well past noon and he'd had no luck so far. It was starting to become a theme of his trip, having no luck. It had been such a disappointment to find out about his cousin Margaret's illness, both because he worried about her health and because he had so desperately hoped that they would be able to take Isabelle in under their roof. Since then, it had been five days of trekking through towns and asking around for any chance that he would be able to find a place for his daughter.
At first when the evacuations had started, he had been grateful that his little Bells was eighteen and had been considered too old to be sent away with the children. He didn't want to bear the idea of having her away from him. Since the death of his wife, Isabelle had become his world and he didn't want to be separated from her. That had all changed when the bombings had started.
Usually she had been home with him when they hit and he could at least be assured that she was safe. Then that night had come, when she had still been at the bookstore when the sirens went off. He had spent a terrified few hours in the bomb cellar that the people of his building shared, wondering where she was and if he would see her again. The bomb that fell into their neighbourhood was the most agonising moment of his life.
He had been thinking about having her evacuated for the past week, ever since he had been told that he would be sent to the battlefield to tend the injured soldiers on the front lines. It was one thing to have her in the city while he was there to watch over her, but with him across the channel, his only concern was her safety. The bombing had only strengthened his resolve and by the time the all-clear siren had rang out through the city he had the plan settled in his mind.
Isabelle had reacted exactly the way he had expected her to. She had her mother's spirit, and he had known that she wouldn't take to the idea of running away and hiding. He had been dreading the idea of her wanted to go serve along with the other women since the moment she'd come of age. Part of him was afraid that she would sneak away to join them while he was gone, but he quelled that voice. She was a good girl and she wouldn't lie to him like that.
It was getting late into the afternoon before he heard a cart rumbling up the road behind him and he stepped over to the side of the road, waving down the driver. The cart came to a slow stop beside him and Mark walked up to the bench at the front. "I don't suppose you could offer me a ride, could you?" he asked.
The older woman on the bench smiled and patted the spot beside her. "Where are you headed?"
"A place called Haresaw," Mark said, climbing up into the cart and sitting down. "Do you know where that is?"
"Oh yes, you're not too far now," the woman replied. "I'm heading further north but I can leave you where the road branches off for the town, if you'd like. It's a short walk from there into the town."
"Thank you, I appreciate it," Mark said gratefully, stretching out his tired legs. The woman flicked the reins and the donkey in front of the cart started moving again with an irritable snort. "I've been walking since Bellingham."
The woman glanced at him in surprise. "That far? You poor thing. So why are you heading to Haresaw?"
Mark tugged at his moustache uneasily. "I'm up from London and I'm trying to find someone who will house my daughter to get her away from the bombings. She's eighteen, you see, so the council said she was too old to evacuate with the other children."
"It's so sad, all those children being sent away from their homes," the woman said, tsking and shaking her head sadly. "I've got three little ones staying with my husband and me, the oldest one's only eleven. The poor little doves were so scared when they came to me."
The woman continued to prattle away about the three little siblings who were housed with her as the cart rolled down the road. Mark was only half-listening as they rode on, taking advantage of the ride to give his sore muscles a break. He was a medic, not a soldier. Even with the basic military training he had picked up on the base, he still wasn't quite used to the amount of walking he'd done in the past few days.
He spotted a narrow road branching off theirs and he sat up expectantly, but the older woman didn't slow the cart. "Wasn't that it there?" he asked in confusion.
"No, Haresaw is a bit further on," she said. He noticed that as she glanced over at the side road there was a frown on her face. "That leads up to this old manor house that belonged to the Westmoors. They owned all of the land up here once. The house is abandoned now, I think. At least we haven't heard any word from the family in ages."
They rode on in silence for another half hour, and then another road appeared off to the other side, much wider than the first. The older woman slowed the cart as they reached the road. "Good luck," she said as he adjusted the bag on his shoulder.
"Thank you for the ride," he said. As soon as the cart stopped he stood and jumped down to the road. He tossed a wave to her over his shoulder as he started toward the town, which was already visible from the beginning of the roadway.
The next few hours were a monotonous blur; he walked up and down the streets of the little secluded town, talking to everyone that he could, but no one seemed to be of much help. Some told him that they had already taken on wards, some made obvious excuses, but by the time he had finished he still hadn't found anyone who was willing to take in Isabelle, even when he offered a decent sum in compensation. The air had grown thick and cold, and the sky had filled with dark, roiling clouds. He wouldn't have much time to find a place for the night before the storm set in.
He walked briskly to the last remaining house, a small manor set off from the road slightly and surrounded in flowering bushes. There was a stable-house beside it, the front doors opened to reveal a cart and a row of stall doors. Parked on the lawn was a wagon that seemed to have had better days, since most of it's left side was crushed apart. A man, likely not much older than Mark himself, was dressed in a heavy coat and hammering away at the frame of the stable's double-doors. "Pardon me?" Mark shouted as he jogged up the dirt path toward him.
There was a particularly loud bang and the man let out a stream of curses. He turned around and stood just as Mark reached him, and the other man had a fierce scowl on his face. "Wha'cho want, then?" he asked in a rough Northern brogue, cradling one hand to his chest.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Mark said quickly. "You all right, mate?"
"Wha'cho want?" the man repeated tersely.
"I just wanted to speak to the owner of the house. I live in London with my daughter, and I'm hoping to find someone who will let her come stay with them so I can get her out of the city," Mark explained for the millionth time.
"We don't have room here," the man said. "Already got a city kid staying 'round and wreckin' everythin'."
"But this house is so large," Mark pleaded. "The government won't evacuate her because she's over eighteen, but I can't stand leaving her in the city with all of the bombings. And now I'm being deployed and she's got no other family, I don't want to leave her all on her own. Please, she's a good girl, real smart, and she can help you out around the house."
The man shook his head, brandishing the hammer he'd been using dismissively. "No, I'm not havin' any more you city types around 'ere," he said.
"Please, sir-" Mark started up the other man cut him off.
"You wanna find someone who can 'fford to take on 'nother person, you go up the road and try Westmoor," the man told him. "Got tons of rooms and money."
"Isn't that place abandoned?" Mark asked, recognising the name that the woman on the cart had said.
"Nah, just keeps to 'imself, I think," the man said. "There's been horses up there, and I've seen lights up there sometimes. If you head out now, you can pro'lly get there 'fore the rain starts." With that the man tipped his hat and walked into the house, ignoring Mark's shout after him.
With nothing else to do, Mark headed back toward the centre of town. He remembered passing the Westmoor manor house on his way to Haresaw and he thought that he could make it there within the hour. If he was lucky the rain would hold out long enough for him to make it there. It was worth a shot, and if it didn't work then he'd move on in the morning.
Mark stopped at the postman's shop and slipped inside. He pulled a piece of paper from the pad in his bag and borrowed a pen from the postman to write out a quick letter to Isabelle. Once the letter had been sealed in an envelope and handed over to the postman, to be sent out with the post cart in the morning, he headed out of town the same way he'd come in.
He reached the road that led to Westmoor manor just as the sun set and the clouds decided to open up. Mark pulled his coat up around his ears and stayed close to the treeline in a vain attempt to keep dry, aided slightly by the tunnel-like weave of the branches overhead. The manor house was only just visible from the main road, a hulking Gothic masterpiece with sharp turrets and snarling gargoyles on the parapets. It was beautiful, in the same haunted and menacing way as a cemetery.
The massive iron gate at the entrance to the property was propped partially open, wide enough for Mark to slip through. Rolling acres of lush grass that came up to Mark's knees swept up toward the house and overgrown gardens edged the entire left side of the building, smothering the stone walls that were built to contain them. It was hard to make out details in the shadows that had fallen over everything beneath the cover of the clouds, but it also made it possible to see the faint glow of firelight coming from one of the lower windows. The other man had been right: someone lived there.
Even though he ran, Mark was soaked through and shivering by the time he reached the front doors of the massive house. He huddled beneath the small shelter provided by the ornate doorframe and hammered on the giant oak doors hopefully. No one answered, so he shouted, "Hello," and pounded harder. Several minutes later he was just beginning to think that perhaps there was no one inside and the firelight had been a trick of his mind, when one of the doors slowly swung inward with an ominous creak. He peered through the doorway but there was no one filling the opening.
"Hello?" Mark called out cautiously and he stepped inside. Beyond the door was a cavernous entrance hall of polished marble and sweeping, double staircases that led to the higher floor. Tapestries adorned the walls, holes worn in the intricate needlework by time and nature, and the remaining spaces were filled with paintings whose canvases were so heavily coated with dust that their subjects were inscrutable. A door stood open on the other end of the hall and a soft, orange glow was seeping out across the floor in a fan-shape. "Is anyone here?" Mark shouted.
There was a soft, scuffling sound from the room but no one answered. Had an animal wandered into the house? Shifting his bag around behind his back to free up his hands just in case, Mark headed toward the room tentatively. As he got closer he heard the gentle flickering of a fire and the air warmed around him. Freezing, Mark hurried the last few steps to the door and pushed it open. The room was a small, comfortable sitting room, with a semi-circle of plush armchairs and settees around a large fireplace. Waves of heated air swept over him and Mark couldn't contain himself any longer. He raced over to the kneel beside the mantle, holding his hands out above the flames and rubbing his frigid fingers together.
"Are you all right, sir?"
Mark spun around on his knees so quickly he nearly slipped backwards into the fireplace. His eyes flicked around the room but he didn't spot anyone. "Who's there?" he asked, standing up and clenching his fists defensively. "Show yourself."
"I don't mean to scare you, sir," the voice, a smooth tenor with a rumbling lilt, spoke up again. Mark couldn't be certain, but it seemed to be coming from the cluster of shadows in the corner behind the door. "But you shouldn't be here for long. Warm yourself and go. He won't like you being here, he doesn't like visitors."
"Who? What's going on?" Mark pressed. "Please, I didn't mean to trespass, but I need help."
"No, not here, sir," the voice said. There was a faint shifting in the shadows and Mark narrowed his eyes, trying to pick out the figure. "You won't find any help here. Please, just go while you can."
"I don't like talking to thin air," Mark said and he took several steps toward the corner where he'd seen the movement. He stopped abruptly as his eyes adjusted to the dim light and he saw the silhouette of the figure. It seemed to be human at first glance, but the longer he stared the more he noticed that didn't seem right. There were long, lean angles to the face, curved shaped protruding from the top of the head, and - what was that behind him?
"This isn't a safe place to be," the voice said. He must've known that he'd been seen because he stepped forward into the glow of the firelight. Mark gasped and staggered backward, colliding with one of the armchairs in his haste. "You see now, this place is not normal. You should leave before he hears you. Hurry."
"What-?" The words fell into silence as the doors to the room suddenly slammed open and were filled with a shape of nightmares. Mark stumbled and fell into a heap on the floor, crawling backwards until he bumped into the hearth and couldn't retreat any further. "Oh God!"
"What are you doin' here!" The bestial roar shook the room and Mark couldn't help the startled shriek that left him. "Why are you in my home?!"
"Please, I was just looking for help," Mark stammered in horror. "I'm sorry, but the storm-" The figure snarled, baring inch long fangs. "I'm sorry, I'll leave, I didn't-"
"You want shelter?" the figure shouted and stepped forward. Lit from below by the smoldering fire, it was like staring up into the face of the devil. Mark was pulled to his feet as a clawed hand wrapped around his collar, lifting him straight from the ground. "I'll give you a place to stay."
Mark fought to escape but the hand that held his shirt was too strong as it dragged him from the room. Stone walls flew passed him in a blur and the temperature plummeted as they descended several sets of stairs. Mark's legs crumpled beneath him as he was thrown, rolling into a stone wall. There was a resounding clang and Mark looked up to see an iron-barred door snap shut, trapping him inside of a small stone cell. All he could see through the window in the door was a pair of fierce, ice-blue eyes.
"And you can rot in here!" the monster screamed and then the eyes disappeared, leaving Mark alone in the dark prison cell.