A.N.: This is another Moonacre fic, based on my daydreams of what it would be like being a modern-day girl going to live in Moonacre with candles and horses and Robin and his Merry Band of Psychos on a terror (my new favourite phrase I made up :D) So it's called Claws Away, Kitten! and I've changed it a little bit from the previous first chapter I uploaded:
Her name is Isabella Merryweather, and her mother is dead in this one; I did have her mother being alive and broke, which is why they return to Moonacre. Now I'll stick truer to the book/movie.
Enjoy, and please review :D
Our story begins the first true week of summer, a strange and breathless time, when accident, or fate, bring lives together, when people are led to do things they've never done before… Tuck Everlasting introduction from movie.
It wasn't easy to ignore the horrendous bumping and jostling of the wagon drawn by two stout brown horses as Mr Digweed led them up a winding dirt road filled with potholes and divots—but somehow Isabella managed it, owing more to the scenery around her that she was, for the first time in her life, at leisure to look at because the horses weren't exactly comparable to her mother's old Mercedes, rather than any form of entertainment; her mother had gotten rid of everything electrical that they possessed, and with the constant bumps and being tossed off the blanket-strewn hay-bale she sat upon, it made it impossible for Isabella to read anything, which really annoyed her, as Isabella did love to read.
There were several types of people in the world; people who took comfort in company, people who took comfort in personal adornment, and people who took comfort in food. Vain Isabella qualified the second, and the imperious Ragdoll cat Ortino who had come to Isabella's mother Elodie as a kitten when she moved to London filled the third description: his little fleshy pink tongue caressed his fine whiskers for any remnants of the delicious picnic they had shared an hour and a half ago, prepared by the chef of Lord Benjamin Merryweather of Moonacre, Isabella's uncle and her only remaining relative—that she knew of. She had never met her father.
Devoid of her iPod and without the ability to read without fear of vomiting, Isabella sat frowning at her dainty little feet—every part of Isabella was little and exquisitely proportioned—which were bedecked in a pair of exquisite Dolce & Gabbana rhinestone high-heels that glittered beautifully in the brilliant West Country sunshine. It amused Orsino, too, for he spent at least twenty minutes darting around the moving wagon (which was painted a lovely spring-green with delicate yellow meadow Ranunculus) trying to catch the rainbow reflections.
Digweed was a smiling-faced, kind man with blue eyes innocent like a baby's, and hummed amiably to himself, completely contented to sit alone on the bench, driving the horses, while Isabella sat on a blanket-covered hay-bale in the back of the wagon. He was another man who worked for Isabella's Uncle Benjamin, and had picked her up from the derelict, tumbledown railway platform that had been suspiciously like the one in the beginning of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Isabella wanted to know why she'd been sitting with a bundle of twigs stuck up her bottom for the last three hours. Why are we in a horse-drawn cart? she wondered, shaking her head in bemusement. For all her short life—Isabella was sixteen, just out of her GCSE examinations at school, on the verge of her seventeenth birthday—Isabella couldn't remember living in the country: Elodie, her mother, had moved them away from Moonacre Valley when Isabella was five years old: she had no idea it was so…backward.
She groaned in pain as they were bumped in a dip in the dirt road and her now-tender bottom screamed in protest. The hay-bale she perched on kept moving about in the back of the wagon and it was a wonder she hadn't lost any of her luggage along the journey, especially now that they were headed up a gentle incline.
As well as pretty decorations, Isabella was very fond of creature comforts, comfy chairs and soft mattresses and warm duvets—and being a townie, she didn't like being exposed to the elements, wondering all the time whether a bird flying over them, singing light-heartedly to the heavens, would decide to poop all over her head. She yelped, startled, as she was tossed off her hay-bale onto their luggage, as Digweed directed them over a deep rut in the road. Isabella hauled herself back onto her hay-bale. Digweed glanced back, smiling.
"Apologies, Miss Isabella," he said, smiling in that wrinkly, charming way that was instantly heart-warming.
She smiled at Digweed and glanced away, over the meadows and fields Digweed had taken them around. All she could hear was…nothing, really, only the clip-clop of the horses and the gentle clack of the wooden wheels. The breeze that concealed how warm it really was made the greenery everywhere rustle softly and nightingales and skylarks—or so she assumed they were; Isabella had never been a nature buff, as she had lived in London her entire life—sang beautifully in the air, and little animals scurried around in the grass that was speckled everywhere with jewel-bright wildflowers.
The meadows and fields seemed limitless, and ocean of green, and the sky was larger than she'd ever seen it, and such a beautiful shade of forget-me-not blue, with not a cloud, not even those little wispy ones. She noticed instantly when the wagon stopped—mostly because the whole contraption lurched and the air stilled completely.
"Why've we stopped?" she wondered, glancing past the horses, as Mr Digweed left his perch: Isabella saw a rough-hewn carriage-house with an enormous gate that appeared rusted and disused, large enough even for an old carriage to pass through easily. It's the gate to Moonacre, she thought, nibbling her lower-lip thoughtfully. Her mother had mentioned it once, how Moonacre Valley was…was their very own version of Narnia, except without talking animals. But there was magic. Even though she had raised Isabella to be a sensible girl, Elodie had always instilled in Isabella the insistence that there was such a thing as magic.
Isabella thought the countryside in itself was magical. It was beautiful here, Isabella had to admit: she'd never seen anything like this: Beautiful, quiet, serene, only the soft snorts of the horses and Digweed's complacent humming filling the air.
Her scream rent the air as something grabbed her round the waist and hauled her over the side of the wagon, shouting something that, in her blind panic, was incoherent, but she found herself struggling against a pair of strong arms clad in black. She didn't know she had such a good scream on her.
"Get off ME!!" she shrieked, writhing in the strong arms as the hands that belonged them searched at her throat and the pockets of her second-skin jeans. She clawed her pretty, long fingernails against the boy-man's right hand, scraping away the skin and drawing blood. He yelled and jerked his hand away involuntarily, still holding onto her with his other arm clamped around her waist.
She cursed herself for being so small and slight; though she was very vain of her exquisite sylphlike figure, it did make this situation seem impossible.
She remembered one of her favourite films, Miss Congeniality, and the now very appropriate advice Gracie Hart had given the audience.
Don't forget to SING, she remembered. She wriggled so much that her elbow got free, and she wedged it in her attacker's gut—Solar Plexus: he yelled, winded—she was glad of her stiletto sandals when he surged forwards again—Instep—he screamed, hopping as her heel dug into his leather-clad toes—Nose—she whirled around and shoved the heel of her palm at her attacker's nose (which was covered with a strip of black fabric to disguise his face)—and finally he yelled, "No, no, no!" Groin—as she wedged the toe of her sandals in his crotch. She pushed him to the floor when he buckled, bent over double, and didn't wait to watch him fall before clambering back into the wagon, grabbing her biggest handbag to start walloping the second assaulter, the one with studs on his bowler-hat, enough that he let her go and dropped to the floor, clutching his head where she'd beaten him, and Digweed set the wagon to rolling again, through the gate, reaching up in time to catch a long, jangling chain to release the catch on the gate.
Isabella panted, her nerves fluttering every which way, her hands trembling, every vein in her body flush with adrenaline as she watched the two boy-men smack their palms against the gate in anger. "What the blinking buggary was that?" she panted, kneading her palm against her heart. What the hell had they wanted? She shivered, too shocked to do anything else, and as Mr Digweed drove them closer to Moonacre Mansion, everything was gilded with early-evening dew reflecting the moonlight: Isabella had never seen the moon so enormous.
She glanced at the trees carpeting the hills down into the valley; she noticed they ran in a line up to a certain point, namely wherever there were settlements (there were tiny clusters of thatched-roofed cottages scattered sporadically around the lower-ground of the valley near the unevenly-marked fields by the lake) and they seemed to stop at the foot of the hills. Everything, in the early twilight, glimmered silver, illuminated by the too-large moon.
In the dying sunlight that beamed from behind them, now, she saw…it was almost indescribable—Rivendell made into a house for people, not elves, with two towers, one taller and slenderer than the other, that looked like they should belong in Lothlórien. That was how she saw Moonacre mansion, anyway, but it wasn't glittering and illuminated with iridescent shimmering light like in the movie; this Rivendell—Moonacre—was dark, a deep shadow set against a diamond-studded sky.
They moved along the winding dirt road through what her mother mentioned were walled gardens and meadows all belonging to Moonacre, and the Lothlórien-like towers got larger; only a select few windows of the mansion were illuminated with light and the rest of the house looked dark and almost frightening in comparison.
But Isabella had never seen anything more beautiful—set in the heart of the most stunning of natural beauties—and her chest ached with longing. She knew this place. Whether she had seen it before or not, she knew it; she knew this was home, more of a home than the house in London had ever been. Even though it seemed imposing, the fiery amber glowing from select windows on the first floor made it far less foreboding, much more welcoming. There was an enormous tree growing almost right beside the front of the house, with easy access onto the rooftop, from which anyone could get to the towers.
The wagon lurched to a stop outside the archway covering the enormous carved front-doors, which were thrown wide open, and in the dim twilight, Isabella saw that, standing at the top of a set of steps intricately carved out of glowing wood and dipped in the centres from long use, stood a tall shadow with broad shoulders and a stiff stance.
Isabella had never been a very elegant girl—no, that wasn't quite right; she was elegant when she wasn't moving; on her feet, she had never been able to go twelve hours without tripping over, and as she tried to climb out of the back of the wagon, wondering if her knees wouldn't cave after the shock of the ambush, she tripped and yelled as she went plummeting to earth; someone with strong arms caught her around the middle.
"Easy on, little niece," said a pleasant deep voice, and she was set carefully on her feet. Isabella had to look up quite a distance; her uncle was very tall, completely opposite to Isabella's mother, who had stood a tiny sylphlike nymph at 4'8", and her own dainty stature of just 5'3", and where her mother Elodie had been raven-haired with eyes like forget-me-nots, Uncle Benjamin was dark haired, and had sharp dark eyes. But there was a little softness in them when he tweaked the corners of his mouth upwards in a saddened smile.
"Welcome back to Moonacre, Isabella," Uncle Benjamin smiled sadly. "Unfortunate circumstances, I know. But there we are. Nothing to be done about it now…Come inside, you must be hungry."
He led her to the front double-doors, which were twice Uncle Benjamin's height, and into the hall: The stairwell was immaculately panelled with smoothed silver wood, but she couldn't see where the floor separated to the steps or the wall, so she guessed that—"Is this house made entirely of wood?" she asked, frowning bemusedly. It certainly gave her the impression that it did; everything flowed together so gracefully; the walls were decorated with sinuous arches that looked like branches intertwining near the ceiling, each of the arches filled with plaster and painted beautifully as if they were walking up an incline in the forest.
Uncle Benjamin chuckled. "Yes, or very close to it," he said, smiling. "Most people assume it is all panelling, but our ancestors, when they settled here in the land William the Conqueror granted them, were expert artisans as well as warriors; this house is built entirely out of two giant mellyrn trees, hollowed out."
"Mellyrn?" Isabella frowned; she'd heard of that before. In the Lord of the Rings—Lothlórien was a forest of mallorn trees in which the elves lived. "Mellyrn are real trees!"
"Real in Moonacre, yes," Uncle Benjamin said, and leading them up the well-worn steps, Isabella found herself in the great hall. Like the stairwell, the entrance hall was made entirely of wood; beside the stairs was a double-doorway, and on the left-hand wall was a corridor by way of a curtain pulled aside, and beside that archway was the enormous fireplace, a mirror above the mantelpiece which was incorporated into the design by the carvings of the wood, as if the artisan had carved enough wood away to reveal the mirror, framing it with a network of unicorns, lions and peacocks: right in front of her, adjacent to the front-doors, was a set of tall double-doors into what Isabella saw to be a grand dining-room with large windows draped in embroidered silk curtains; on the right-hand wall of the hall was another set of double-doors, which were closed, and beside the staircase to the front-door, another flight of steps went up, turned, crossed over the front-doors and turned again, all of it supported by sinuous pillars of mellyrn wood that looked as if any moment they would snap like toothpicks.
Ortino, collected under Isabella's arm, squirmed and she glanced up; at the hearth, between a delicate little chair embroidered with butterflies and a large, winged armchair with a sunken footstool there was an enormous black wolf; she stilled, her jaw dropped, and she stood frozen with apprehension—not so much fear, but apprehension. The dog's eyes were red.
"Don't worry, Isabella," Uncle Benjamin smiled, seeing her apprehension. "Wrolf can kill in an instant—but you're a Merryweather. He would rather die than harm a hair on your head." Wrolf fixed his eyes—which had suddenly turned chestnut—on Isabella and Isabella felt as if her very soul was being examined. He gave a soft bark, as if of approval.
"Come, dinner is prepared," Uncle Benjamin said, and he gestured into the dining-room behind him; Isabella let Ortino drop to the floor, and with his brush of a tail held proudly in the air, he sauntered over to Wrolf's paws and curled up beside him on the hearth, purring softly. Well, if Ortino isn't afraid of him, Isabella thought—but Isabella was afraid of everything. But the look that Wrolf had given her had seemed to her to be a sort of claim, like he had a lock on part of her soul and would never be restful if there was any danger threatening it. She followed her uncle into the dining-room, and found it to be lovelier even than the hall.
As before, the entire room was carved from mellyrn, with two enormous picture-box windows, and the buffet service on the left, and the china cabinet in the upper-left-hand corner by the left-hand window, and the glass-fronted china cupboard to the left of the doors and the great fireplace were all carved out of the mellyrn, the backs attached to the walls, which were also painted beautifully in places: she was surprised to see that the large dining-table was not carved from the mellyrn, nor were the dozen chairs set around it, all of them with sinuously carved high backs and upholstered with soft silver silk with a raised floral, leafy pattern in gold which echoed the drapery at the windows and the delicate patterns painted on the walls—it looked like dawn, the walls, with the candles shimmering off the paint so that everything appeared illuminated with soft, early-morning light. It was magical.
The table was spread with a fresh linen tablecloth, on which was set a number of tureens, platters, bowls and candelabras set amongst great bowls of beautiful flowers, and three places had been set at the far end of the table, with beautiful china, exquisite cut-crystal and heavy silverware. Isabella had never seen as much decadence outside of the Marie Antoinette movie.
"I hope you didn't go to too much trouble over me," Isabella said quietly. She was always shy around strangers, and even though they were family, Uncle Benjamin was a stranger. Uncle Benjamin chuckled, as if it was nothing, and pulled Isabella's chair out for her; she sank into it, filling her lungs with her favourite smell. It was a full roast-beef dinner with all the trimmings—crispy roasted potatoes, caramelised parsnips, French beans, fresh carrots, cauliflower and broccoli-cheese, Yorkshire puddings and fresh peas. Uncle Benjamin sat himself down in the chair at the head of the table that Digweed pulled out for him.
Isabella couldn't help it; she helped herself to everything within reach—even the cabbage, because for the first time it didn't have that smell that was almost…noisy. Everything was absolutely divine—the roast beef was just juicy enough, the roasted potatoes were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the Yorkshire puddings were perfect for caching gravy, and the vegetables were the best she had ever eaten—they tasted like vegetables.
"Everything you see here before you has been reared on Moonacre property," Uncle Benjamin said proudly, onto his second plate. Isabella saw he possessed the Merryweather appetite, and the impossibly fast metabolism. But even Isabella began to slow down, filling up; this Moonacre food was absolutely nothing like she'd ever had before—it was so wholesome; it actually tasted like food. But it was strange, eating by candlelight; she glanced around the room as she ate—there were no electrical sockets, no hint of anything with a bulb or powered by electricity; there was a gas lamp over by the buffet service, but that was the most advanced thing in the room.
"I don't think I can manage another morsel," she groaned, lolling in her chair, feeling her jeans protesting. She couldn't wait to get to bed and take them off: she didn't usually wear jeans.
"Pudding, Miss Isabella?" Digweed said smilingly, and Isabella's eyes flew wide open, her back went ramrod straight and she gazed upon Digweed in wonder as he revealed the spread at the buffet.
Her mouth watered: Trifle, Black Forest gateau, profiteroles, strawberry and rhubarb pie, ice cream, fruit tart, fresh fruit, fairy cakes, and summer-fruits Pavlova. Digweed handed out bowls and there was a scuffle between Isabella and her uncle over the profiteroles covered with the most chocolate sauce, until Isabella noticed the jug of extra sauce.
After she'd had her fill of puddings (she sampled everything and loved all) Isabella was offered Uncle Benjamin's arm, and, armed with candlestick-holders that matched the sconces on the walls, he led them out of the dining-room and up the stairs.
"Isabella, you are the new mistress of Moonacre Tower," Uncle Benjamin said, smiling at Isabella as if he thought she would enjoy that.
Ortino snorted most ungracefully, as if in amusement, blue eyes on Isabella. Isabella glanced up at her uncle in terror. The tower? That meant a high-up place.
Isabella was afraid of everything. Heights in particular, sharks, snakes, shrikes (she'd been traumatised from watching the baby field-mice being killed by a shrike in The Animals of Farthing Wood as a child), drowning, paper-cuts, animals, strange men, the dark, cold, pain. Heights predominated. Uncle Benjamin saw her petrified expression.
"Is something the matter?" he asked, frowning.
"I…" Isabella blushed hotly and beckoned him closer, so she could whisper in his ear. "I'm afraid of heights."
"You'll be quite safe in the tower, I promise you," Uncle Benjamin smiled, and offered Isabella his hand rather than his arm, and fought an internal battle over which was the lesser evil—heights, or hurting Uncle Benjamin's feelings by declining the tower-bedroom. Heights, she deemed, were a lot easier to deal with. She took Uncle Benjamin's large paw and he led her into the antechamber in which a spiral staircase was built—just like in Lothlórien, around the outside of an enormous tree-trunk bigger than a house, with many sinuous archways filled with glass that glittering with reflections of the candle sconces: it was easier not to remember she was climbing to a high place because it was growing so dark outside all she could see was the forest, and a tiny bit of the cultured lawn in front of the house.
There were several doors leading off the staircase into what had once been the trunk of the mellyrn tree, but it was at the very top where Uncle Benjamin stopped her, at the top of the staircase, in a little parlour, with a semi-panoramic view broken by the wall with the staircase leading to her bedroom, and the fireplace, which was ornamented only by two simple sconces, a little chair like the one in the hall, upholstered with forest-green silk embroidered with tiny red wild strawberries, a matching footstool which added the little white strawberry flowers, and a little table with another candelabrum lit on it with a little sewing basket beside it.
"Moonacre is to be your home, Isabella, for as long as you desire it," Uncle Benjamin said graciously. "This is where you belong, at Moonacre: I'm very sorry to hear you are afraid of heights, but perhaps this room will help you change your mind." With that, he gave her a smile that made his eyes twinkle warmly in the candlelight, and bid her goodnight.
When he had disappeared down the staircase, slipping silently down the polished, smooth steps that dozens had traversed, Isabella went to the staircase which wound up again from the parlour; at the top of this exposed staircase was a tiny door to her new bedroom. Upon it was a tiny knocker polished so brightly it gleamed like silver; it was a tiny horseshoe, a good-luck symbol as much as the continuation of the unicorn-theme at the fireplace, and she undid the little latch that made a friendly click.
She definitely wanted to live in the tower forever. Unlike the hall and the dining-room, her bedroom was constructed primarily of a flet in the middle of the highest branches of the mellyrn tree, the last room built from the trunk itself being the parlour. In this way, the bedroom had an absolutely panoramic view of the valley: here, there were several arches filled with gleaming glass, while in between, the wood had been treated and painted, she supposed, to reflect in direct correlation what lay around in the valley. Delicate little lanterns hung from the walls and another fireplace had been carved out of the tree.
The furniture was also of mellyrn, but unlike in the dining-room, the pieces were free for her to move about as she pleased; a delicate dressing-table, a lovely desk, a little work-table, a chair upholstered in silk the blue of a spring dawn embroidered with tiny shells and baby starfish, and the bed—oh, the bed! Bigger than a king-sized, the frame was the only thing carved directly from the mellyrn, carved with beautiful animals and mermaids and shells; the headboard flowed seamlessly in with the branches that intertwined overhead like they would in the forest, and for a second Isabella thought the ceiling was open to the elements, because the stars that were painted into the sunset-blue sky glittered and throbbed with light. Everything glowed shimmering silver, and the coverlet on the bed over the white sheets was a soft pearl-white silk embroidered with shells and starfish and doves and flowers.
"Wow," Isabella groaned in amazed disbelief. Her bedroom in London had been nothing like this—her furniture had been from Ikea, and the colours had been garish, her computer had whirred loudly because it was so old, she had never had enough room for her books and her clothes had always spilled out of her tiny wardrobe. She had never had a room this beautiful, but instantly she felt like it had belonged to her all her life. She plonked down on the chair beside the fire and kicked off her shoes, sighing, and noticed that her overnight bag had been brought up and sat on the stool at the dressing-table. She shimmied out of her jeans, kicking them off and leaving them on the floor where they crumpled in a heap, and almost choked herself to death trying to get her top off (which was normal) and opened her bag to retrieve a little marzipan satin camisole and French knickers set she had designed and created, trimmed with needle-lace she had also made. Elodie had taught her how to.
She wondered for a moment whether this had been her mother's bedroom, when she was a teenager—sixteen years old, carrying Isabella, giving birth four months after her birthday. She wondered whether her mother had sat in this chair, contemplating what her life would bring, now that she had embryo-Isabella to think about too. Whether she'd lain in bed, crocheting or knitting, or making the delicate lace people paid a fortune for on their wedding-gowns, gowns Elodie made couture for her customers, and which she had never worn herself. It was the great irony, and Elodie was always amused that she made her money out of making wedding-gowns, when she herself had never been married.
Thinking about her mother made Isabella's curiously silvery-grey eyes well up with hot tears that made everything go gold and blurry. She pushed her tears away and tugged her hair out of its ponytail, slipped into bed and noticed instantly how warm the sheets were, as if someone had slipped a warming-pan between them. They smelled absolutely lovely, and the scent made her stop thinking about how much she missed her mother and best-friend, and she drifted off to a sleep filled with sweet dreams.
A.N.: Tada! Reprised first chappie! Please review :D