My hope is this doesn't appear to be too sharp of a change in direction for those of you who have read my other stories. Jane Austen played a role even in my high school fiction, and Incunabula relied heavily on the European history I've always found fascinating. I completely understand, however, if historical fiction is not to everyone's taste.
Familiar elements belong to S. Meyer.
PART ONE: CORNWALL
So exalted was her imagination, so confused were all her thinking faculties, that she stared with wild doubt whether then, or whether now, what she experienced were a dream.
Camilla, A Picture of Youth
She started awake as though woken by a sound—the soft tread of footfalls, the bark of a knock against the bedchamber door, the bated breathing of someone watchful and close. She held her own breath, waiting for the recurrence of whatever had awoken her so abruptly from a fitful sleep.
But there was no sound other than the steady patter of rain against the rooftop, the occasional rush and hum of the wind joining the soothing noise. Only, as she lay staring at the beams of the ceiling, she could not find it at all comforting, however familiar. Her hands were restless beneath the sheets, her breathing agitated.
Isabella was certain something had awoken her. She knew not what—a dream, a sound, some half-remembered worry that had weighed on her mind before she had tucked beneath the counterpane earlier that evening. Her eyes grew only more wakeful and wide as she gazed at the ceiling, searching for an answer she could not grasp, the beat of her heart accelerating as though she had already risen and raced down the shadowed stairs.
She groaned as it occurred to her this was a foregone conclusion; she could not remain abed, so restless and nervous, and she certainly could not sleep with such agitation curling through her limbs. She threw back the sheets and counterpane, cautious of the floorboard next to her bed that had always creaked beneath her weight. Her pace was slow and wary as she approached the bedchamber door, listening for any sign that the only other occupant of the house was awake.
She was soon on the landing, eyes fixed on the door across the corridor, a falsehood ready on her lips should she be found awake and out of her bed at this hour. But no noise stirred from behind the door, and Isabella was soon padding down the narrow staircase to the ground floor, her hands fisted in the long skirt of her cotton nightdress.
She paused in the entryway, as if reconsidering the impulse that had brought her to this point. But after a moment's contemplation, she was bending to tuck her feet into leather boots and pulling a heavy woolen cloak over her shoulders.
The front door creaked, the softest cry of a sound, and she glanced over her shoulder, fearing that any lie that occurred to her now could not possibly be believed. But there was no sound from above stairs and she soon darted through the open crack into the darkness of night.
Isabella flew down gray stone steps to the raked pebble path that led to the cottage door, not daring to look back and spy any observance of her departure. But when she reached the waist-high gate she paused, lifting her head to gaze in either direction down the dark lane. Though the moon was half full, it was obscured by the clouds from whence the rain fell; she could see very little besides the shadowed rise of the hedgerow that bordered the lane. Pulling up the hood of the cloak, she turned instinctively towards the sea, uncertain of what she sought, and equally uncertain of what she might find.
The wind grew more violent as she hurried down the Coast Path, the hum and rush soon bellowing and howling around her hunched figure, the cloak whipping against her legs. But she did not hesitate, a feeling of anticipation pulsing in her chest like the beacon of a light house. She was somehow certain something was waiting for her—as impossible as she knew such a thing to be.
The shadow of the dense hedgerow soon gave way to the open plain high above the sea, the wind whipping into a full fury with nothing to impede its wake. Isabella hesitated, head lifted, eyes narrowed against the lash of rain, fruitlessly trying to make out her surroundings. Memory could have led her forward, this path as familiar to her as her own home. But the darkness was so absolute she could not discern the sea she knew to be directly east; its sound was nearly immersed in that of the wind, the rush and roar so mixed that she knew not where the crash of waves ended and the furious skies began.
She pressed forward, the pulse in her chest no less urgent for having passed the buffer of aged hedgerows. Though she was soon shivering in the folds of the heavy cloak, it did not occur to her to stop and turn back, something inexpressible pushing her on. It was only when she reached the cliff edge, the sound of the ocean her compass, that she paused again, her breath labored, tendrils of dark hair slick against her cheeks. But her vision was no better for being nearer the sea, her only indication that she was arrived her own instinct and the gulf of inky black before her.
Abruptly, a cloud shifted above and the barest sliver of moonlight illuminated the craggy coast and the tumult of ocean before her. But Isabella could not be transported by the sight of crashing waves crested by froths of white, for the feeling of anticipation had been suddenly overcome by the feeling of being watched.
She stilled, fists tightening in her skirts, eyes rapidly scanning the horizon. She knew not what she should see, only that she suddenly felt like prey, hunted. Had she sensed a movement, just out of sight, momentarily revealed by the weak shaft of light above? Or, in that uncanny but utterly normal manner, had she sensed someone's gaze upon her person?
Once, she had seen a mouse frozen in a field freshly scythed, as if pinned into place by the shadow it knew not to be a hawk. Its black eyes had been wide and fearful, furred body rigid with fear. She had pitied the creature at the time but now felt an unexpected affinity for its circumstance.
Then, just as suddenly, the feeling passed. The wind even seemed to calm, the roar of the ocean distinct in her ears. Isabella shook her head and peered around, her shoulders falling from where they'd nearly risen to her ears, her hands loosening their grasp in the folds of her nightdress.
Her lips curved into a grimace before she huffed a sigh of exasperation. Such fancies, she thought to herself before gathering up the damp fabric of her cloak and turning back to the path.