Ohmygoodness! My third fanfic is officially underway!! I'm so excited and a little nervous ^_^ Okay, nothing much to say yet except I hope you enjoy! Be prepared for a long author's note at the end o.O
Disclaimer: I do not own the kingdom of Bleach.
Early 19th Century France
Somewhere far south of Paris
"God's teeth!" The small, black haired woman exclaimed as rain suddenly fell in sheets upon the two small figures traveling through the dark, ancient woods along what was apparently meant to be a road, but barely succeeded in meeting its endeavor.
"I'm so sorry Tatsi! I had no idea it would be this far out or I would have planned to leave earlier and then we would have missed the storm!"
Tatsuki Arisawa attempted to smooth her rapidly dampening short hair back away from her eyes as she looked into the regret filled grey eyes of her life long friend and sighed as she felt her anger lessen to acute frustration, "It's not your fault, Hime. Nobody could have predicted we'd have to practically travel into the belly of hell to get to this God-forsaken place." She warily glanced at the thick woods on either side of them, thinking better of using the trees for shelter, considering the possibilities of what could be lurking behind the giant trees.
Feeling her anger rise again, she thrust her hands into the pockets of her boy's trousers, "And nobody could have predicted our driver had a few loose nuts and wouldn't take us any further than this road. Seriously, you'd think the ghost of Louis XVI haunted these woods the way he was shaking in his boots. He just better pray to Our Lord that it leads to the right place or I will find his pathetic behind and make him never want to sit on what will be left of it again!"
Tatsuki glanced at her unusually unresponsive companion. Orihime seemed lost in thought as she looked up into the rain, eyes blinking rapidly. "Hime?"
"I suggest we walk faster in the hopes of coming upon our destination soon and resembling drowned rats as little as possible."
Orihime Inoue fell in step with her friend's quickening pace, periodically stumbling over the occasional fallen branch, tufts of sturdy weeds sticking out from the overgrown road, and even the smallest of pebbles. Suddenly she decided to make a game of it and grabbing her long skirts, she burst into a sprint and threw a challenging look back at her friend.
Tatsuki smirked and ran after the now laughing girl who was rapidly leaving her behind. Her head whipped to her right when she thought she heard a low snarl come from somewhere in the thick of the woods. Deciding it was wiser not to investigate, she picked up her pace, eyes still scanning the area to her right as she turned a sharp corner in the road, "Oof! Ow…Orihime! What in blazes are you doing stopped in the middle of the road like a…" Tatsuki's words trailed off, her insult forgotten as she followed Orihime's astonished gaze to the overwhelming sight that stood before them.
Ahead, the road ended in a large cul-de-sac, and looming in front stood two towering black iron gates, expertly forged into ornate designs. In the middle a large iron 'C' was almost camouflaged against the surrounding curls. On either side stood large stone columns and atop each of them did stand a large black eagle, its wings spread majestically, seeming to look down upon the girls, daring them to enter and face their fate. A thick, stone wall covered in moss and vines, glistening eerily from the rainfall, surrounded whatever lay inside, hiding it from view.
Orihime clutched at the fabric above her heavily beating heart and took a few steps forward. She lurched backwards when Tatsuki suddenly grabbed the back of her dress, "I have a bad feeling about this, Hime. Maybe we should…"
Orihime paid her no mind, her feet heading towards the gate almost of their own free will, "Just one look…we can at least stay here for the night. If you still don't like it we'll leave." Orihime whirled around to give her friend a brilliant smile, "Okay, Tatsuki?"
Tatsuki swallowed her rising feelings of apprehension and glared at the darkening clouds and the rolling boom she heard in the distance, "Fine." Slowly she followed Orihime towards the gates, half expecting an evil sorcerer's black castle. Tatsuki shook her head; Orihime's overactive imagination was really beginning to rub off on her.
A small gasp escaped Orihime when the new sight came into her view as she peered through the curling iron; Tatsuki's eyes widened in awe when she joined her.
The rain had diminished to a sprinkle momentarily, almost as if it was allowing the girls to take in the full effect of the estate in its entire brilliance. Contrasting sharply with the ominous entrance, behind the gates lay perfectly kept grounds and a wide pathway, interrupted only by a beautiful Romanesque fountain in the middle, leading to the most beautiful place either girl had ever dreamed of seeing.
In the distance sat a majestic testament to opulent nobility of century past. Its embedded Grecian columns dared defiance, and its ornate dome, for only a moment, gleamed proudly in a sudden break in the clouds. The arched windows to unknown rooms and hallways seemed to go for miles on either side of the main entrance, which was led into by a wide staircase.
Breaking out of her daze, Orihime took in a deep breath and pushed on the heavy iron, half surprised when the gate slowly opened, the hinges crying out from lack of use. Hand in hand, the girls endlessly trekked down the path to the bottom of the stairs.
Now the huge double doors were clearly in their sight. In sync, they climbed slowly up the stairs. Orihime studied the unusual wooden carvings with curious fascination. In the growing darkness it was difficult to tell, but they almost seemed to be flecked with gold.
After trying and failing to reach the high knocker, a snarling lion clutching a wide ring in its heavy jaws, Tatsuki determinedly straightened her shoulders and with a stiff fist, banged against the door with all her might.
The girls stood and waited. And waited. And waited.
"Damn it all to hell! Weren't they expecting us?!" Tatsuki shook her fist at the door and stalked up to it, lifting her foot to kick it down if need be.
Suddenly the door was opened and on the other side stood a tall man, dressed in all black except for the stiff white shirt and collar peeping out from the top of the jacket, its long tails whipping in the sudden gust of air. What was most appalling was not his scowl of pure disdain as his eyes took in the disheveled look of the travel weary girls, nor was it his flaming red hair, pulled into a tight pony tail that elegantly traveled down his back. Rather, the most appalling thing about this instantly unlikable man was he had the most outrageous markings on his face. Orihime and Tatsuki's mouths fell open, dear God what has he done with his eyebrows?
"No visitors." At that gruff announcement he slammed the door in their faces, barely escaping doing serious damage to their noses.
"What. The. Hell." Tatsuki gritted through her teeth. Narrowing her eyes and almost breaking the skin on her palms with her nails as her fists tightened even further, Tatsuki stepped back a few paces and gave the door one hard running kick.
The door was opened again, this time the redhead's eyes were flashing with fury as he ground out the words with much apparent difficultly, "I'm sorry, sir, but as I previously stated we are not receiving visitors."
Tatsuki braced her hands against the door to prevent him from shutting it again, infuriated even further by his blatant sarcasm, "Now just you wait a second! We're not visitors! We came here in response to the advertisement!"
Before the towering man could bellow out his next response a soft, yet authoritative voice sounded behind him, "Oh my, could it be our new little family members have arrived? Please stand aside Mr. Abarai and let these poor wet creatures in."
Mr. Abarai glowered, begrudgingly stepped back, and allowed them in with a curt bow at the waist.
Inside was a kindly woman who seemed to be in her forties and was smiling warmly as the two girls walked in. Practically the polar opposite of the now coldly stiff butler, she was instantly likable. Her long dark hair was parted in the middle, woven into a long braid, and coiled in the back into a practical bun. Dark blue eyes emanated warmth as she looked at the two girls, "So, is it true that you are our new maid and stableboy?"
It was Orihime who fervently nodded, "Yes ma'am."
"Excellent! My name is Retsu Unohana, you may call me Ms. Unohana. I'm the housekeeper here. And this pleasant gentleman here is Renji Abarai, our butler." Renji snapped his heels together and gave them another short bow. "Remind me of your names, my dears."
Tatsuki remained silent as she fought down the almost irrepressible urge to kick the butler in the gut. Understandingly, Orihime gave a warm smile and answered her again, "I'm Orihime Inoue and this is Tatsuki Arisawa. A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Unohana," Orihime curtsied respectfully and Tatsuki mumbled a similar polite response while bowing.
"Well then, now that the pleasantries have been exchanged, I believe we need to get you out of these wet clothes and put some hot soup in your stomachs. First follow me to your rooms."
The housekeeper turned with a swish of skirts and the girls had to practically run to keep up with the older woman as she swiftly glided through the breathtaking hallways. They could hardly believe their eyes as they passed through the home, the amount of beauty and wealth almost making them dizzy.
Finally they reached the servants' quarters. By no stretch of the imagination was it anywhere near the lushness of the rest of the house, but it was clean and sturdy. No chance of leaks and drafts in here. Orihime mused that not even rodents would dare set one tiny paw in Ms. Unohana's spotless domain.
She soon led them to a door and opened it to reveal a small room illuminated with a lantern on a dressing table, "Here you are, Miss Inoue." One small but comfortable bed stood on the opposite wall and a simple washstand stood next to a window overlooking the back of the house.
To Orihime she felt as if she'd been given the master's quarters and with shining eyes and clasped hands she turned, "Oh Ms. Unohana! This…is this really my room?"
Ms. Unohana smiled warmly at the sweet girl, "Yes, my child. I can see that it suits you to your satisfaction. Now, Mr. Arisawa, let us leave her to change and I'll take you to your quarters. I'll have a maid take you to the kitchen for dinner shortly, Miss Inoue."
"Thank you, Ms. Unohana!"
"You're welcome, my dear," and with that she softly closed the thick door, leaving Orihime alone to collect her whirling thoughts as she sat down her small suitcase and fingered the soft blanket on her bed.
Never in a million years had she dreamed that when she had answered that advertisement for one maid and one stableboy at a country home called Clermont that they would end up at a...at a...there were just no words to describe her new home. Home. At that word she felt again the twinge of guilt that she had felt when she first realized she loved this place as she stepped into the breathtaking foyer and gazed at Ms. Unohana's soft face.
Resolutely she shook it off and struggled to unbutton the back of her soggy dress. Her brother wouldn't have wanted her and Tatsuki to starve as they had been in Paris when the wind literally smacked her in the face with a newspaper page with the advertisement for help that seemed to be tailored to a perfect fit for her and Tatsuki. Her brother always chose her well being over principle. Besides, the Revolution was over. France's social system had been turned topsy-turvy. It shouldn't matter that she was now working for the very class her brother had fought against. It didn't even seem as if the family lived here.
Just as she had successfully talked herself out of her guilt and into dry clothes she heard a small tapping at her door and looked over as it was opening.
"Miss Inoue?" A petite girl with dark hair tucked under a small white cap peeked into the room, "Are you ready for supper?"
"Ah! Yes! Thank you, Miss…"
"Momo, you can just call me Momo."
"Nice to meet you, Momo! And you can just call me Orihime."
The young girl grinned at Orihime and motioned for her to follow her. As soon as they reached the kitchen and opened the door they were met with a loud crash, deep laughter, and a woman screeching at the top of her lungs, "Renji Abarai I don't care if you're Napoleon's right hand man, nobody and I mean nobody sticks their grubby fingers in my dough! You big buffoon! I have a mind to stick this spoon up your-!"
A meaningful cough from the other end of the massive kitchen stopped the tiny cook's fiery tirade. She pointed accusingly at Renji's face which was turning red from suppressed laughter, "Isn't there any way to ban him from the kitchen, Ms. Unohana?!"
Orihime noticed the corners of Ms. Unohana's mouth twitching suspiciously as she mildly reprimanded her head cook, "I'm afraid not. He is the butler, thereby equal to me and above you in rank." Despite her words and despite traditional ranking, it was clear to Orihime that Ms. Unohana was the one who reigned supreme and everyone knew it.
However, Renji still turned to smirk at the fuming woman next to him, but his expression suddenly turned solemn and then desperately apologetic when he noticed she was gripping a very large kitchen knife, "Now, now…let's not be hasty…"
At the comedic scene before her Orihime involuntarily giggled, causing all eyes to turn in her direction, "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, I just…"
"No, no my dear! Come, sit here and we'll have some steaming soup and hot bread in a jiffy."
The little firecracker of a cook whirled around after sticking her tongue out at Renji, and before Orihime knew it, the most delicious dinner she'd seen in a long, long time was easily within her reach. For a moment she stared in disbelief. The cook leaned over the table and put her face right in front of Orihime's. "Something wrong?" she dared.
"Oh no!" Orihime's hands waving in front of her frantically, "It's just…well…I haven't seen such good food in a long time. I'm just savoring the moment."
A flash of pity crossed the black haired woman's face, and then it was swiftly replaced with a smile as she stood up straight and placed her hands on her hips, "Well, your eyes and nose have had their fill, give your taste buds a chance to 'savor the moment'"
Orihime smiled almost sheepishly as she picked up the bread and tore off a piece.
"Ha! With your cooking her taste buds are in for a dire disappointment."
"If you wanna live to see another sunrise I suggest you choose your words more wisely, Mr. Abarai," she sneered at him, waving her knife threateningly and then turned back to Orihime with a smile on her face, "I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Rukia Kuchiki, the head cook."
Orihime wiped the crumbs off of her cheek and swallowed hurriedly, "Nice to meet you, Ms. Kuchiki! Orihime Inoue, the new maid." She grinned at Rukia and then turned when she saw the door opening out of the corner of her eye.
Friendly introductions were made and delicious food was served. The girls swiftly lost any apprehensions about their new jobs as they were caught up in the easy conversation among their new fellow employees and employers. Even Ms. Unohana, while still retaining her clearly authoritative aura, was enjoyable to talk to. And although Renji was still rather rude, his crazy antics and big laughter made him seem a little less of an ogre.
Their belly's full and their hearts warmed with hope and camaraderie, Tatsuki and Orihime caught each other yawning at the same time and the room burst into laughter.
Ms. Unohana looked on with a knowing smile, "It seems are new family members are tired from their journey. You may retire early tonight and, Miss Inoue, I'll fill you in on your duties and the rules. Mr. Arisawa, the head groomsman, Mr. Chad Yasutoro, will fill you in on yours."
The girls expressed their gratitude and stood up to clear away the dishes. Orihime turned to the housekeeper, "I do have just one question."
"I was wondering if the family is currently living here."
Suddenly Rukia, Renji, and Momo's faces turned grim and solemn while Ms. Unohana struggled to keep a polite smile on her face, "No, my dear. That is, there is no family."
"No family? But then…"
"There is just one of the Kurosaki family left, and he does spend most…no…he spends all of his time here at the main home."
"Kurosaki? I don't know if I've ever heard of them…" Orihime frowned as she tried to recall, but no recognition of that particular nobility came to mind. Although she said there was only one left so that must mean that they were caught up in the Revolution.
"Not many have, they preferred to live a quiet existence. Unfortunately…well…these things do happen. Anyways, you rarely see the Duke of Clermont, so you need not concern yourself with him."
To Orihime's surprise she said that last part rather harshly, "Y-yes, Ms. Unohana."
"All right then. Off to bed you two." With that she ushered the two out the door.
Outside of the kitchen, the two stopped before parting ways and looked at each other with smiles on their faces.
"What do you think, Tatsi? Shall we stay?"
"Definitely. If our rooms weren't enough to convince me, that food sure was." Tastuki lowered her voice to a whisper, "Hopefully they won't be too mad if they ever discover I'm actually a stablegirl."
Orihime giggled behind her uplifted hand, "You're too good with horses, and they'll know that before they know you're a girl. I mean you never actually lied about your gender, just chose not to enlighten them! No one could put such a good horse groomer out on their ear just because of a minor detail like that."
"Ha! Minor detail. Right...Speaking of minor details, was it just me or did everyone seem a bit odd when the subject of the master came up?"
Orihime frowned slightly, "I noticed it too, I wonder why that is…do you suppose he's cruel or…maybe horridly ugly and that's why he never leaves? Or maybe he's…"
Tatsuki put a hand up to stop Orihime before she went off on another one of her trips over the rainbow, "I don't know. It all seems a bit suspicious. I mean, they accepted us without any recommendations and the advertisement said nothing about this being a duke's home! What duke accepts employment blindly like that?"
Orihime shrugged, "Well, maybe God simply decided to turn our luck around this time."
"Could be. It's about time, I say." Tatsuki grinned at Orihime's stern look before suddenly yawning again and sleepily blinking her eyes, "Well I'm off to bed, good night, Hime."
"Sleep tight, Tatsi!" Orihime cheerfully waved to her friend and then turned to go to her room.
Later, Orihime stood before her dressing table in her long, white nightgown, brushing out her thick, auburn hair and counting her brush strokes softly to herself, "ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. Done."
She set down her hairbrush and humming softly, walked over to her window and gazed out at the stormy night as she twined her long hair into a loose braid. The rain had resumed its torrential downpour and a sudden loud crack made her jump and then smile to herself. Orihime loved rain, loved thunderstorms even more. But as much as she'd love to stay up and watch the storm, the soft bed had a definite gravitational pull on her tired body.
Resignedly, she turned to give the storm outside one last look, and just then a lightning flash lit up the grounds below her. Orihime froze at the form that she'd caught a glimpse of. A chill ran down her spine as her eyes widened and she practically fell away from the window.
No way, she thought. I must be imagining things. I must be…but what exactly did I imagine.
Putting aside the irrational fear, she squared her shoulders, and marched back to the window, waiting for the next lightning flash. But when it came, there was nothing. No figure. Not even a tree that she might have mistaken for…for something.
Frowning at herself she turned away; surely it was just a beast of the woods, deformed by the flashing light. Yes, that's all it was.
Slowly, Orihime crept into her cool bed and pulled the covers tightly around her. I'm just nervous about a new place and my imagination is running away from me again.
Softly she sighed and closed her eyes to go to sleep. But even as tired as she was, sleep had difficulty making its way through the flashing mental images of the frightening figure she'd seen below her window.
Sleep had difficulty pushing past the heavy feeling of foreboding that swarmed Orihime's heart.
Gasp! Hehe...Hope you liked that. It's very much an introductory chapter, just setting the scene and whatnot. Okay, now for a few explanations...this might get a bit boring -_-
The title is French for "Beauty and the Beast", so obviously, and as you may have already guessed, this will have Beauty and the Beast flavoring. Only a few similarities though, a light seasoning if you will. And that's one reason it's set in France (fairy tale's origin), also I love France (Go there! Now!) and the French Revolution suits my purposes.
The time, as stated earlier, is early 19th century (1800s), shortly after the close of the French Revolution which ended in 1799. King Louis XVI has been executed and Napoleon Bonaparte is the self-proclaimed emperor, creating a powerful government and conquering the world as we speak.
As you have noticed, I have completely 'translated' this to English. Their names are still Japanese, of course, but I switched them to English form so that their given names are their first names and their surnames are their last (Inoue Orihime becomes Orihime Inoue). Also I'm not using the French 'mademoiselle', 'monsieur', etc.; but rather the English 'miss', 'mister', etc. Just makes my life easier.
This is for my beloved perverted readers: the lemon will be a long time in coming, so keep your pants on, dearies. ^_^
I tried to find a picture of what I was imagining the...er..."house" looked like, and the closest I found (for those who would rather see a picture than mentally visualize and because I don't think I did too well on describing it...it looks so cool in my head!) was Castle Howard if you wanna google it :D
For any other questions, feel free to ask, but most likely they will be answered as the story progresses. Also, I'm not aiming to be perfect when it comes to historical accuracy, but don't hesitate to point out any discrepancies. I may or may not fix it...depends on how much revising I would have to do.
One last thing, there will be a LOT of characters in this. Mainly Ichi and Hime, of course, but I'm having fun putting various characters in minor roles. I have a few more that I'll be adding, but if you have any favorites that you'd like for me to add, tell me and I'll put them under consideration.
Okay, is that enough boring author's note for you? Good. Now click that adorable little button below and review! All reviews are appreciated (except flames) and the more reviews the faster the updates. Motivation inspires. Thank you so much for reading dearies!! ^_^