Chapter 1 – The Doll
Lord Axel of Dover was a typical young man of nobility. All around genteel, the red-haired man had become the topic of gossip for many young ladies and young men of aristocracy who have yet to wed. Those many gossipers have attempted to catch the eye of the young dashing gentleman, but Lord Axel of Dover was never interested. Not one man or woman at any of the social gatherings he had attended thus far in town had caught his eye.
Tonight was like any other nights.
Axel stood next to a painting of Lord Terra and Lady Aqua, who were the first of the esteemed Berkeley family who owned the house the night's social gathering took place, while he talked amiably to the other men who had attended.
"It is really near high time that you find yourself a mate and get settled down," said a burly brown-haired man as he took a sip from his glass of champagne. "You're reaching the point where you're passing your prime, Axel."
The named young man sighed. "Yes, I know, Lexaeus," he replied amicably. "It's not that I don't want to get married, but I've yet to find the one." Lord Lexaeus of Exeter was an investor in the Australian colonies and had just returned from an Australian expedition only a week prior to this gala. Axel only considered the man a simple acquaintance and certainly not one with whom he would share his concerns of the world with.
"Still looking for your true love, eh?" said an older voice as a black sleek-haired man joined the small group. Sir Xigbar of Winchester had been a military officer and proudly showed his battle scars that culminated with a black eye patch over his right eye.
"Just because you managed to find yours fast, doesn't mean I'd have an easier time," Axel replied.
"I will be cheering for you then," said Lord Demyx of Margate. The sandy blond-haired man was one of Axel's closest friends ever since they met in town four years past at another one of these parties. Lord Demyx of Margatewas said to be an outstanding musician and has performed in front of the King of England. His husband, Sir Zexion of Cambridge, served as one of the King's advisors for his academic expertise.
"I thank you for your vote of confidence, Demyx," Axel said, raising his glass of champagne.
"I hope your optimism is enough for his quest, my dear," said Zexion with an amused smile.
"You know you wish for his best too, dearest," Demyx replied in jest.
"When will you be returning to Dover?" asked Lord Riku of Coventry. Out of Axel's friends and acquaintances, the silver-haired man lived the northernmost. The remaining of his friends all lived in southern England. Yet, despite being a Northerner, Riku was perhaps Axel's closest confidant, having been friends with him since their childhood spent in Cambridge.
"Probably not until next summer," the red-haired man replied. "My father wishes for me to enter the bar association before I return to my manor duties next year."
"Taking the bar exam, eh?" said Xigbar.
"I didn't think you'd be the type for law," said Riku with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm not," replied Axel grimly. "It was my mother's idea."
"Good luck with your exam," said Lexaeus. "I heard that Leon had just managed to pass the bar exam."
"Leon from Bristol?" asked Demyx.
"That same one."
"Where is Leon anyway?" asked Riku.
"I believe he's back in Bristol tending to his father."
"Ah yes, Sir Pembroke. He's a kindly old gentleman," said Zexion.
"Yes, he will be missed," said Axel. Demyx frowned at his friend.
"Don't say such pessimistic things, Axel," he said.
"My apologies," the man said. "The gravity of my exam has been bogging down on me."
"Let us pray that your pessimism shall be lifted after you pass the exam," said Xigbar with a grin.
"We can only hope," the Lord of Dover said with a laugh.
"Excuse me," said Riku upon seeing a familiar mop of brown hair. "I see that I have an old friend amongst the crowd." With that remark, he excused himself from the small group and approached his friend. Axel looked at the younger man with interest.
"Who is that?" he asked. "I've never seen him around before."
"That's Lord Sora of Durham," said Zexion with a frown. "He doesn't often make it down to town."
"Durham? That's near Scotland, isn't it?" asked Lexaeus.
"Yes," nodded Demyx.
"How does Riku know him?" Axel inquired.
"They both went to the same boarding school for the past two years in Oxford," answered Zexion.
"I see." Axel turned his attention away from the two teens and supplied the topic for another pointless conversation: that of the colonies in India and Australia.
Three young men sat around in a dark sitting room illuminated by the cracking fire within the fireplace. A pale moon casted a soft, eerie light upon the trio of men as the tension in the room remained.
"Is he trustworthy?" asked one of the three.
"He is no art collector, but he appreciates them. He will take good care of the statue."
"You better be sure. We're putting a lot of faith in this friend of yours."
"Do not worry. I will be checking in on him every once in a while."
The two speakers turned to the last man who sat stiffly in the room.
"It is your decision."
The last man sighed. "I am to assume that you will leave town?"
The first man frowned grimly. "I do wish to stay in town, but I cannot for the reasons you already know. There must be a way to fix this situation."
"How far is he from town?"
"God willing, he might not know that we're here."
The last man remained silent.
"I promise you this. I will find a way to correct this."
"And I will help you," the second man said. "I have connections with the royal court. Perhaps I can find someone who can help us."
"Very well," the last man sighed again. "Give him the statue."
"Milord," announced the butler once he has entered the study. "Lord Riku has called. He awaits you in the sitting room."
Axel lifted his eyes from the newspaper he had been perusing and raised an eyebrow at the information. It had not been two days since the gala at the Berkeley manor and Riku was already calling?
"Thank you," the red-haired man said as he put down his newspaper. He stood up and went down to the sitting room.
Upon entering the cozy room wallpapered with flowers, carpeted with red, and furnished with velvet couches, Axel was surprised to see not only the silver-haired teen in the room. Sitting upon one of the many couches with his back facing the door was a spiky-haired teen. The man had no doubt that it was the same man who he saw at the gala.
Riku turned away from the window to face Axel and smiled as he approached him.
"Axel, I apologize for my sudden visit," the Lord of Coventry said.
"You're more than welcome to call upon me, my friend. I will admit that I had been rather surprised by this visit."
"Well, I wish for you to meet one of my dearest friends," he gestured toward the brown-haired man who stood up to show respect to the owner of the house. "Axel, this is Lord Sora of Durham."
The red-haired man shook Sora's hand firmly. "Ah yes, I heard about you from my friends. They say you don't make it down to town often?"
Sora winced slightly. "Not as often as I'd like. My duties have not allowed me to leave Durham for leisure."
"I see, please sit," the host gestured to the couches as a maid brought in a silver tray with tea and cucumber sandwiches.
"If I may inquire, for what reason am I honored with such a visit?" Axel asked as he leaned back in his chair with a cup of tea in his hands.
His guests looked at each other with slight solemnity before Sora turned to face him. "I shall be frank. I have to return to Durham tonight to deal with more business there. However, I have a piece of work that I would like to have you safeguard for me."
"Artwork?" the man raised an eyebrow.
"It's a statue recently chiseled out of marble. I would feel safer if the statue was in a house with occupants. My own home in town will be vacated by the end of the week to be sold to Lady Tifa."
"I regret to hear that," Axel frowned. "Does that mean you will not return to town in the future?"
"I will still return upon the completion of my business in Durham, if not only for the statue."
"You cannot take it with you?"
"My baggage does not allow me to carry such cumbersome things."
"And Riku can't take care of it?"
The said-man laughed. "Axel, you know as well as I do that I am no caretaker of artwork. I've seen the statue. I believe you will find it a brilliant piece of work."
"I see. I shall safeguard the statue as you have requested of me. I do request that you make your presence in town more often," Axel smiled. Sora laughed bubbly.
"Perhaps once I have settled all of my businesses in Durham."
"Shall we show you the statue? It should have been moved into the foyer by now," suggested Riku.
"Sure," said the red-haired man before putting down his cup of tea and following his friends out into the foyer. Two men were moving a cloth covered statue into the room before setting it down on the ground. Axel could see that the statue was life-sized and appeared to be of his height. One man undid the rope that secured the cloth to the statue at Sora's behest then revealed the statue.
The Lord of Dover widened his green eyes and gaped at the sight. Standing on a pedestal was the statue of a teenage boy with spiky hair much like the owner of the statue. The solemn heart-shaped face was perfectly proportioned. On his left hand side sat a scabbard for a rapier and his hands were placed as if prepared to pull out the rapier for battle.
Axel looked from the statue and then over to the brown-haired boy who looked at the statue with sadness that was not missed by the keen-eyed man.
"What's the name of this statue?" he inquired.
"The sculptor didn't name it."
"He couldn't think of a proper title for it," replied Sora nonchalantly.
"God must have bestowed the divine arts upon the sculptor," Axel commented as he approached the statue. "It looks extremely lifelike."
"It is, isn't it?" agreed Riku.
"Who's the sculptor?"
"This statue is my brother's latest work," answered Sora.
"Your brother?" Axel was surprised by the information.
"Yes. He is an amateur sculptor. At least, that's what he calls himself," Sora laughed softly. "He refuses to sell his work even though they would fetch a lot of money."
"It's a good thing that he refuses to sell them though," said Axel. "I would hate to have this magnificent statue stolen to be sold on the antiquities market."
Sora smiled softly. "I supposed you're right."
"I would've liked to meet your brother."
"I'm sure if he knew, he would've accompanied me to town. However, he has decided to tour the Continent for the rest of the year," said Sora with a sad smile. Axel did not miss the look of accusation that Riku made toward the brown-haired man.
"Does your brother look like the statue?" the red-haired man decided to ask before turning his eyes at the statue again.
Sora laughed softly. "He does not look like this statue. There is a statue at home that he chiseled with himself as the model. There is a room at Linden Court walled with mirrors. It's the room that we had specially redone just for him."
Axel resisted the urge to whistle like a commoner in awe. He knew, as the other two knew, that mirrors were an expensive luxury. To have an entire room walled with mirrors would mean that the Lindens had a lot of money.
"Pardon my words. I have spoken too much," said Sora with a blush.
"It's your own reputation at stake," grinned Axel. He was starting to like this young man a lot. He would've liked to meet the model that this statue was based on."
"He's back in Durham," said Sora with a smile.
"Perhaps I shall make a trip up to Durham after my bar exam," contemplated Axel aloud. Sora grinned at the said thought.
"Linden Court will welcome you with open doors if you wished to call upon us."
"Any preference as to where I should keep the statue? I understand that your brother sounds averse to showcasing his work. Shall I have my servants place the statue in a private room?"
"That would be best," said Sora with an enigmatic smile.
"Then I shall put it in the sunroom."
"I thank you for your generosity," said Sora with a bow of respect. "I pray that you will not be burdened."
"It is no burden. I am glad to be of service and to be of your acquaintance."
"I am glad as well." The young man pulled out his pocket watch and looked at the time. "It's time for me to be off. I shall send letters inquiring of my statue's wellbeing until I return for it."
"And I shall look forward to them," said Axel with a firm handshake.
Sora approached the statue and with a sad smile, placed a hand upon the smooth ivory cheek of the sculpture.
"Thank you and farewell for now."
"Godspeed, my friend," said Axel. Sora waved good-bye and bowed before he exited the building.
"Strange man," the red-haired man commented.
Riku chuckled. "Sora has been known to be strange."
"Will you be staying for supper?"
"I think not. I have an obligation with my aunt at her home."
"Ah, yes. Aunt Millie. Give her my love."
"Will do. I shall return tomorrow to check on the statue."
"I shall expect your call then."
"Safe journeys, Riku."
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts does not belong to me. No suing, please.
A/N: Trying to write in older style of English speech is difficult. (sadface)