The Lady's Maid
By Youkai Yume
Author's Note: It's been a very long time since I dove into fan fiction…and I never expected that "The Cat Returns" would be the category that I'd be writing for. And yet, when the plot bunnies strike…
This fic is AU: Alternate Universe from the movie. However, it will blend some elements from both "The Cat Returns" as well as it's prequel movie, "Whisper of the Heart".
All of the characters in this fic are cats, including our main heroin, Haru. God this must sound weird to people who have never seen this movie…WELL SEE IT! It's so adorable and lighthearted you find yourself having no choice but to like it.
ANYWAYS, this author's note is winding down to an end. Please enjoy and Review at the end!!
Disclaimer: "The Cat Returns" belong to Studio Ghibli, Aoi Hiiragi, and all other creators of this wonderful tale. I only borrow them for my own.
Chapter One: The Baron
"What do you think he's like, Haru?"
The girl in question looked up at her Mistress, who was gazing thoughtfully out the carriage window at the passing scenery. Despite her elegant demeanor, Haru could tell from years of being by her side that the noblewoman was nervous.
"If he's anything like the Cat King, you'd be in trouble. I'm only thankful that HE was one of a kind so as it stands, the Baron can't be too bad," she smiled, hoping to cheer her Mistress up. The Cat laughed lightly in return, only to have it fade off into a sigh.
"I only wish Father didn't decide my own engagement for me. I don't even know him…"
"I hate to break it to you, Milady…but I don't think he's going to marry you for your money."
It was no real secret that the Engel family was in the middle of financial trouble, and so despite being the daughter of a Viscount, it seemed a suitable match to marry her to the Baron who, while of lower class, had good wealth. Still, it saddened Haru somewhat to see a person used as a bargaining chip like that.
"Yes well…it certainly can't be for my appearance," the cat across her huffed. "After all, we don't even know what the other looks like!"
The Maid chuckled at this. "Maybe, but once he takes a good look at you, I'm pretty sure he'll realize that he got a nice bonus."
A blush stained her Mistress' face. "You flatter me, Haru."
Haru refrained from rolling her eyes. Louise Engel was by no means, a common cat. She had beautiful cream fur, almost white in the sunlight, and gentle green eyes that reminded Haru of the finest jade. Her carmine dress hung perfectly on her slender form, but Haru knew that her Mistress would look just as fine in a wrinkled paper bag.
"You know I'm not, Miss. That isn't to say that I'm all for this at all. You know how I feel about forced marriages."
Louise smiled sadly and touched Haru's hand with her own gloved one. "At least I know that having you with me will make it a little more bearable, my friend."
Their attention turned once more to the carriage window as a lavish mansion loomed in the distance. It wasn't as big as Louise's home, but it was modest enough and to Haru, still quite tasteful. Haru felt her Mistress tighten her hand around hers and squeezed back comfortingly. When the carriage at last came to a stop, and the door opened, Louise took a deep breath before stepping out.
Haru followed after, taking in the scene with wide eyes. On the front steps of the estate stood a crow that looked like it would be even larger than her…and an orange cat in a light gray suit and top hat. He held a cane in his hand, and stood with such a regal air that Haru knew right away that he was the Lord of the House.
"Greetings. Miss Louise Engel, I presume?" He took off his top hat and bowed as the two of them approached, taking Louise's hand for a courteous kiss before standing upright and smiling. "I am Baron Humbert von Gikkingen. Welcome to my home."
"Thank you," Louise replied curtly, managing a small smile of her own. "I'm very pleased to meet you Baron. This is my Lady's Maid, and she will be staying with me."
Haru bowed, not looking up to meet the Baron's gaze.
"Of course. We're happy to have you both."
"I also want to express my gratitude for…for accepting our proposal of marriage," Louise added. Even though her voice was composed, Haru could still hear the hint of sadness from her Mistress' words.
"Please, we'll discuss the matter at dinner. But I'm sure you're tired from your long journey. Come, we'll show you to your rooms so you can get your well earned rest. Toto?" The Baron turned to the large crow beside him, who lifted his head in attention. "Please take Miss Engel's bags up to her room please."
The crow nodded, and Haru watched in wonder as it swooped over to take both their luggage into its' claws and fly up and disappear around the upper story of the mansion. Already she knew that this was going to be an interesting stay.
"Now then," the Baron placed his hat back atop his head and gestured to the front door. "Please, come in."
At dinner, Louise ate in meager bites, still feeling awkward and uncomfortable in her new setting, while Baron observed discreetly from across the table. Haru stood by Louise's side, ready to serve her at a moment's notice. The young maid felt the silence grow thicker, and looked back and forth between the Baron and her Mistress.
"Miss Engel, I believe I'm just going to get to the matter at hand," Baron started, placing down his fork. Louise looked up from her plate, waiting for him to continue. "As you know, our engagement was agreed upon for purely financial reasons. Your Father was a good friend of my Father and our union will ensure good stability in both stature and wealth."
Haru was surprised that he had been so blunt about the entire thing, not sure if the Baron was simply being honest or if he was being cruel to rub in the fact that this was every bit the business deal rather than a marriage. She looked over to see Louise just as equally surprised; her normally soft expression hardened.
"Yes," she supplied in a clipped tone.
"Then am I safe to assume that this was also done with no prior discussion with you nor without your consent?"
Haru gripped the serving tray in her hands closer to her chest, not sure where this was headed. Baron straightened in his chair.
"Then might I suggest another proposal?"
"Another proposal?" Louise tilted her head to the side.
"To be honest, the purpose of my asking you here is not just to meet you, but for a trial courting period."
"Courting? What is there to court? Technically you are already my fiancé, Baron."
"Not yet," he said, "Not until you say so."
"…I don't understand."
"Well, I think it's fair that a woman should have a say in whoever she should marry," the gentleman began. "We're strangers after all, and don't know each other at all. I don't want the lady that is to be my wife feel unhappy or forced to be in a marriage that she does not want. Therefore, as a compromise we shall have a one month courting period in which we can get better acquainted. If you decide that you would still like to marry me than our engagement shall be official."
Louise took it all in, unprepared for his sudden proposition. "You're giving me a choice?"
"Yes," he nodded patiently.
"…And if I should decide that I don't want to marry you? What of my family?"
"We'll work something out," Baron assured. "Don't worry about the Engels' finances. Whether or not you decide to accept my proposal will not affect my decision to help the Viscount."
Haru watched as her Mistress considered the offer carefully. The Maid discreetly looked to the Baron, trying to find any kind of hidden motive or deceit behind his words. It could just be part of his charm to get her to trust him faster…but somehow she couldn't bring herself to see him as the lying type. Still, after her experience with cats in search of their mates, she was still wary. Haru had to admit however, that the trial courting period seemed like a good course of action. Louise would have nothing to lose.
After a moment, Louise nodded firmly. "Alright."
"What do you think of him NOW, Haru?"
Haru smiled a bit as she unlaced Louise's corset and helped her get into her nightgown. "I'll have to admit, he wasn't anything I expected, Miss."
"Yes," Louise agreed, moving to sit at the vanity table. "From what I've seen so far, he seems like a decent Gentleman."
"It's only been a day. We don't know that for sure yet," Haru remarked, folding the carmine dress neatly and bustling about the room, making sure all of her Mistress's items were unpacked and fit to her liking.
"You're so cynical Haru," Louise laughed. "It might not be as awful as I thought it would be. At least he's handsome!"
It was still slightly dark when Haru awoke, and for a moment, she wasn't sure if she was in her bed back at home, or her bed back at Engel Manor. When the sleep lifted from her eyes, she realized that she was in neither and remembered the engagement, the Baron, and the one month trial courting plan. Groaning, she slowly rolled out of bed and deftly put on her black maid's outfit.
If anyone had ever told her that she'd get used to waking up early in the morning, she would have told them to get their head checked. Now however…
With practiced hands, she tied the strings to her apron and gave herself the once over in the mirror. Being a Lady's Maid certainly taught her a thing or two about meticulousness and being prompt. At times though, she missed her old haphazard self. It certainly always made her mornings more interesting.
She pulled the curtains back, admiring the pink that stained the morning sky. "Okay," she breathed, "New day."
After closing the door quietly behind her, Haru began the task of finding the kitchen. Louise always liked her morning tea as soon as she got out of bed, and Haru didn't want to break the tradition. After about ten minutes of wandering aimlessly, and then asking a passing maid where said kitchen was, she finally arrived at her destination.
What she found when she opened the Kitchen doors left her stunned for a second.
"Hey Baron, looks like we got company," A large white cat gruffly commented as she entered. Sure enough, at the counter, pouring his own cup of tea stood the Baron, looking equally surprised to see Haru there.
"So we do. Good morning," the orange cat greeted cheerfully. "What brings you here so early?"
Haru quickly bowed in response and slowly approached the two of them. "Good morning Sir. I only wanted to prepare and bring my Mistress her morning tea when she wakes up. May I ask the same of you? Why you're up so early, I mean."
"Baron always comes to the Kitchen in the morning," the fat cat said as he resumed mixing some sort of batter in a bowl he was currently holding.
"How rude of me. This is Muta, the Head Chef of the house," Baron introduced, and the cat known as Muta grunted in response. "And yes, I do come here every morning to brew my own tea." He paused, studying her a bit, and Haru felt herself shift nervously under his gaze. "Would you like a cup?"
Her head snapped up in surprise. Did the Lord of the house just offer HER tea?
"I insist," he smiled, already pouring her a cup. "It's my own special blend too. It's a bit different every time, so I can't guarantee the flavor."
Haru looked blankly at the offered cup held out for her, still absorbing the fact that she was being served tea for once instead of the other way around. Snapping back to the present, she accepted the teacup and thanked the Baron quickly. It would be rude to turn it down after all.
She inhaled the scent and almost sighed in delight at how light and sweet it smelled. Tentatively bringing the cup to her lips Haru took a first sip. Large, hazel eyes widened in pleasant surprise.
"Wow, that's the best tea I've ever tasted."
Baron smiled, pleased. "Then you're lucky."
"If you don't mind, can I bring a batch up to my Mistress? I'm sure she'd love it."
"By all means."
"Just tastes like boiled grass to me," Muta commented in the background, while she began to set up a tray and cups for Louise. In the back of her mind, she expected the Baron to reprimand the chef for being rude. But when all that came out of it was a chuckle from the orange cat, she noted that the two must be good friends if he allowed such informal talk.
Haru felt like someone was watching her the entire time, and jumped back a little when she saw that the Baron was standing right beside her. He hadn't kept his emerald green eyes off of her since she arrived.
"Sir?" She squeaked.
"Forgive me. I didn't quite catch your name," he said gently.
Her name? What was it again? Oh yes…
"It's Haru…Yoshioka Haru."
Her Mistress was right. He really was quite handsome now that she got a good look at him for the first time. She quickly averted her gaze when she realized she was staring a bit too long.
"Yoshioka?" The Baron tested the name on his tongue. "You're a foreigner?"
Haru couldn't help but let out a wry chuckle at this. "Yeah, you can say that." Checking to see if she had the sugar and cream as well, Haru lifted the tray and curtsied once when she faced the two again. "If you'll please excuse me. It was nice meeting you, Muta," she turned to Baron, "and thank you for the tea, Sir."
As she exited the kitchen, she almost smiled when she heard the smooth voice say: "Please Miss Haru, just call me Baron."
Who knows? Perhaps he'd be a worthy man for her Mistress after all.
Author's Note: A Lady's Maid is a personal maid that attends to the Lady of the House. She follows her everywhere, is expected to wait up for her at public functions, dresses, grooms, and serves her. It is higher than the position of a regular maid, but is lower than the position of being the Lady's Companion. The hours can be grueling, but the Lady's Maid gets her own small, private room from the other household maids.
How was the first chapter? Too boring? Too fast? Crazy zombies? Banana pudding?
I hope that despite it's not too confusing, and everyone gets the general idea of this alternate universe. For those of you who don't know, Louise was a cat doll that was Baron's fiancé in "Whisper of the Heart". The two were separated and were never reunited. THIS IS A HARU/BARON FIC! But I decided to incorporate Louise into this story, because gosh… I love "Love Triangles."
Their location? Still somewhere in the Cat Kingdom, except a little bit more Victorian themed. This is what happens when I go through rereading my manga collection… Heavily influenced by "Emma: A Victorian Romance." (Watch the anime...subliminalmessage)
This story is planned out for once, on post it notes, little manga like sketches, and random pieces of printing paper… so I will definitely be updating frequently and finishing it.
Anyways, please tell me your thoughts! REVIEW!! It's the only thing I ask in return for the sweat and blood! THE SWEAT AND BLOOD I SAY!!