Right, I shall keep it short because it's currently midnight and I'm worn out:
:D I should be writing Clair de Lune, I know, but my laptop has literally died and I'm picky about environments :D
But I was making coffee the other night and idea popped into my head and...
...here we are!
From Ballet to Elizabethan London!
Please review and, most importantly...
'I love you' are words not often spoken in my time. Indeed, there is little one can do with such a line, except for a playwrite, who may toss it into his prose and send a raucous of milkmaids swooning to him.
Love is a luxury I will never have, I thought dully as the carriage clunked over a stone bridge. Do not presume to think me a romantic sort – I was only thinking of this irritating noun because an old landlady in the last village we had stopped at had patted me on the back sympathetically and said I must have loved 'him' very much. No, if I had loved anything about him then it was only the money and safety he had provided me with.
My father was killed not two weeks ago in a disagreement over pricing. I knew he had been in shady business – I had discovered the money laundering tools in the disused wine cellar of our house. I hadn't said anything – I knew it would do neither me or him any good; my father was greedy, and he would not have listened to my pleas to stop. He had been a well respected fur merchant until the truth had gotten out after his death. Now our family – which consisted only of me – was in disgrace. Disgraced and penniless.
The horses stalled for a moment in the middle of the road. I had been travelling for a long time, but I could not sleep. One would expect me to mourn, but I could not. Like I said, love was not something I had had. We had not been close, and aside from the few times he had come to my room to give me the belt, we were hardly present in each other's lives. Even though he was the sole reason I was not on the street, begging or sleeping my way to a meal, I simply couldn't mourn his death.
Selfishly, though, I mourned my own situation. We had been part of the aristocracy, and the local magistrate had at least had the decency to ensure I had somewhere else to go. But that place was the one place I had never dreamed of going: London. The canals of Venice, the beaches of Southern France, the green hills of Ireland…but never London. I had lived in the countryside all my life. I had loved the open air, the fields and the starry nights. London, I had heard, was the entire opposite of all this.
But it was the only place where I had relatives.
I knew very little about them – my father, it seemed, had not even known of their existence. From the little information I had scraped up before leaving, I had found only that Lord Carlisle Cullen was a prominent member of parliament, and that he had a wife and children. I knew nothing of his temperament, or even what blood I shared with him.
We were approaching the city walls. For at least a mile now, we had been passing playhouses and brothels, taverns which emitted the sound of drunkards, and gambling houses which did not even bother hiding their illegality – it seemed that outer London was the high place of crime. My father would have loved this, I thought bitterly.
Rain fell from the gloomy sky as we reached the walls. I bit back a scream and turned away from the window – the walls were adorned with severed heads. "A little reminder, innit, girl?" Called the coachman. "Don't be a naughty lass, or you'll be the one welcoming the guests of London."
I shivered a little as we passed under the portcullis. I was sure I would never forget those bulging eyes.
But for the moment, at least, I was distracted. We had entered London proper. I once again craned my neck to look out of the window. Though it was evening, the streets were crowded. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry.
"Move, you lazy bleeders!" Yelled the coachman as we slowed. People stared up at me, people who were dressed in sodden rags, their faces hollow and thin. I moved my eyes up, terrified by their looks. The houses were tall and cramped together. People leaned out, calling to those on the street. A woman poured out brown-looking liquid from a high story. I swallowed. A herd of cattle was getting whipped along beside the carriage.
Suddenly a hand slammed against my window. I pulled back, urgently looking through the small window to the coachman, but he hadn't seemed to have noticed. I looked back out again. The face of a grimy man was pressed against the glass, giving me a toothless smile. I stared back, trying not to shake. What did he want, what was it? Eventually he dropped away. I sat frozen. More hands clamoured against the windows.
"Money, milady!" Their muffled voices came through the window. But before I could reach for my purse, we were moving again.
I didn't look after that, and looked down at my clenched hands.
Gradually, the streets became less crowded. The houses were better cared for – some even had proper gardens out fronts. Now we passed maids and servants, hurrying along the pavements, trying to keep out of the rain. A nanny walked by clucking at two children, who were demanding to go home. Nerves shot through me. I knew nothing of what to expect. Eventually we came to a halt. Breathe in, breathe out, Isabella – there's no need to be afraid...
But I couldn't convince myself of that.
The coachman hopped down and opened my door, holding out his callused hand. I gulped and shakily got out into the downpour. My pale green dress was immediately spotted with raindrops. It was one of my least favourites, but it was the only one I'd been allowed to keep. It was tight right up to my neck, exposing no skin except my hands and face. My corset was constricting, but at least they'd let me keep it. "It's that one there, Miss," said the driver.
I looked where he pointed.
The house was the usual white with black wooden framing, but it was massive – three levels high with steeped roofs and several chimneys. It stretched two times as far down the street as its neighbours. My father's house had been much smaller than this – and I had heard that the houses of London were meant to be miniscule in comparison to those of the countryside.
"Thank you," I said to the coachman.
He nodded and tipped his hat and got back onto the carriage.
I was left alone on the pavement. My dress and the small, near empty purse hidden under my skirts were my only possessions. The large and oppressive house in front of me was my only hope.
I took a deep breath, telling myself it would not be seemly to arrive utterly drenched. My nerves threatened to suffocate me now. There was no reason for them to accept me. The lawyer had sent word to them of my situation, but they were not obliged to accept me into their household. That damnable lawyer…he had helped me so far as the magistrate had made him, but no more. When I had demanded to know what would happen to me if the Cullens did not take me in, he had shrugged and muttered that one of the playhouse brothels might 'take me in'.
My hands shook as I opened the black iron gate and went down the garden path. I must be confident…they won't want someone who is nervous and childish…I lifted the heavy lion's head door knocker and banged on it twice.
It was opened almost immediately by a footman dressed in black and navy blue livery. He regarded my attire – it was far too cold to be out in simply a dress – and then looked at my face, which I knew from the odd glance in a looking-glass was thin and pale. "We don't accept beggars," he said, and began shutting the door.
"No!" I cried out desperately, putting a hand against it. "I'm Isabella Swan," he looked at me disdainfully. "I – I was told I could speak to Lord Carlisle, about possibly...living here…"
He raised his eyebrows sceptically, "Staying here?"
I nodded earnestly. He smiled slightly. He believed me…But then he began shutting the door again. "I think you're looking for Southwark, girl."
"No! I – "
"Let her in, Bernard," came a man's voice. I looked behind 'Bernard' to see a tall middle-aged man. He was blond, with a neatly trimmed beard and sharp dark eyes. He was dressed in a rich blue and gold fitted doublet and hose. My father had not been allowed to wear such finery. "Isabella Swan?" He asked. His voice was authoritive and calm.
"Yes, my Lord," I said, curtsying.
"I am Lord Carlisle, owner of this house," he said, even as he looked me over – I prayed he would not assume me to be a beggar as well. But his face was passive, and I lowered my eyes respectively. "Come out of the cold, child," he said eventually. Bernard opened the door wider, and I nervously stepped into the hallway. It was warmly lit with brackets of candles attached all down the papered walls. Wallpaper, I knew, was a luxury even my father could not afford.
Lord Carlisle turned back down the hall, and I followed, unsure of what was going to happen. The house was quiet as he led me up a flight of stairs. I felt so small in my drab dress and damp hair, walking up the polished wooden steps, following a man surely dressed as finally as the late King himself. We stopped at a landing and he led me down another corridor to a door, which he unlocked with a small golden key. "I trust your journey was pleasant?" He asked as he opened the door and ushered me in.
I found myself in an office. The walls were lined with shelves and shelves of books, and a fire crackled in the small, gold encrusted hearth. The room was mainly dominated, though, by a large desk. A map of what I assumed to be London lay on it, as well as piles of neatly stacked parchment and an inkwell. "Yes, my Lord," I remembered to reply. No one ever said it, but I was sure it was common etiquette – always give the expected answer, because the asker generally does not care. My journey had been far from pleasant – I was going to a place I had only heard badly spoken of, and I was not certain I would even have safety when I got there. I still wasn't, I reminded myself.
"Sit, please," his Lordship ordered, already seating himself behind the desk. I sunk into a chair opposite him, my mind stressing. He rested his hands on the desk. "So I understand that you seek shelter in my household, Miss Swan?"
"Yes, my Lord," I said.
He nodded gravely, "I don't suspect you know what connection I have to your…" he looked away distastefully, "less than amiable father?"
"No, my Lord."
He nodded again, "I don't, rather fortunately – one's reputation can be terribly ruined when a relation becomes someone of ill repute, as we have seen with yours."
I blushed as he looked at me.
"You can see why I am anxious to allow you lodgings in this house?" He said. My heart thudded nervously. He was going to send me away…I was going to end up in the playhouses, just as my lawyer said.
"My family is in very good standing at the moment. That makes me have extremely important power in parliament." he leaned forward, looking directly at me. I wanted to look away, but I was even more fearful not to. "Allowing a girl whose only family is in total disfavour into my house would not be a wise step. You see, Miss Swan, your father had quite the reputation here in London. He didn't just cheat other thugs like himself – he cheated noblemen. Powerful noblemen – ones who would have been just as happy to cut his throat as any of the outlaws he dealt with. So you can understand why your reputation will undoubtedly tarnish my own, yes?"
I nodded, because I had to. My heart had now frozen. My father…dear God, what had he been thinking? Cheating off men so high up…
Lord Carlisle sighed, "Do not look so desolate, child. I would not leave you to the hounds of the streets. London is not kind to pretty young ladies such as yourself. You shall lodge here for as long as is needed before we can find a man willing to risk marrying you." He spoke of me as if I was a horse too wild to be broken in…but, I realized, he was right; I was a danger.
"You are most kind, my Lord," I said stiffly, bowing my head.
"Do not expect much," he said sharply, "I have connections but none of them would wed their sons to a girl of your standing. Expect lower gentry, perhaps, but nothing more."
"Good, then," he said, standing up. He went to a gold threaded bell pull by one of the windows and pulled it twice.
I stood as well, "My Lord?" I said nervously.
He looked at me.
"Well I…I just wondered what connection you do have to my family?" I was putting him through so much risk, as he had just explained, why was he allowing me to stay?
Lord Carlisle's expression changed. He looked out the window, an ancient sadness in his eyes. "Your mother was a great friend of mine," he said quietly. "I promised her that I would make provision for you if things went amiss…" he trailed off.
There was a soft knock on the door, and a young maid entered. "You rang, my Lord?"
Carlisle broke his suspended gaze and nodded. "Show Miss Swan to the white room, Miranda – and go to Madame Tulle's in the morning – I daresay you will need some new clothes, Miss Swan, if you are to fit rightfully in here."
She curtsied to him, and I took my leave, also bobbing a curtsy in thanks.
The maid led me once again to the stairs, and we went up another story. Here, there were doors lining both sides of a long and dark corridor. My mind was whirring. Lord Carlisle had known my mother...known the mother who I myself had never known. She died giving birth to me. My father had not spoken of her, except for the one time when I asked about her. Then he had given me the belt and as he had he had yelled at me that 'the whore had the same damned brown eyes as you, girl!'
The maid had shown me into a small room at the very end of the corridor. Like Lord Carlisle had said, the walls were painted an almost shining white, and the single, four poster bed had the same plain white sheets. It was lit by the fire flickering in the hearth. I stepped in, looking over the small writing desk and neat rose embroidered curtains. Outside, the rain beat down, but inside it was warm, and safe…and for now, at least, it was my room. My place.
"Will you be needin' anything, then, ma'am?" Asked the maid.
"No, thank you," I said quietly. She curtsied and left.
I took a match from the mantel piece and began lighting the candles on the walls. I stared at the tiny flames. I wished I knew more about my mother. I would have to have the courage to ask Lord Carlisle more about her. All my life, I had been influenced only by my father. I was not fit to judge myself, but if I was then perhaps I would have been surprised that I myself had not taken to fraud and cheating like him.
Perhaps it was because I had been scared of my father and his sinister visitors. I had curled myself up in a corner of the attic with a stack of books had sunk into the flowing lines of 'The Faerie Queene'. I knew I was by no means a lady worthy of kindness or distinction. I did little for others – wrapping myself up in the booI could never help but think how different my life might have been with a mother…
I snapped away from the candle bracket. There was need to indulge in such daydreams. It was like love; a pointless luxury because it could never come true.
I sat down on the bed. Immediately weariness overcame me. Now that I knew I had at least a temporary place to stay, and that I had gotten through the streets of London, the stress that had been keeping me from sleep had seeped away. Try as I might, I fell asleep to the face of a smiling, brown-eyed woman…
I shot up in bed to the cry of a young girl somewhere in the house. I heard quick footsteps going down the stairs. Quickly I stood, wondering if there was some sort of emergency. Oh Lord; what if it was one of those fires that London was so well known for? Nerves struck me, and I was wide awake. I hurried out of my room. There were voices coming from downstairs, authoritive orders being called by a woman.
"Fetch me water and bandages, Miranda! And some whisky would not go amiss!"
I heard a man moan. He sounded in pain.
I slowed as I was reaching the foot of the stairs. One of the doors down the hallway was open, and inside was a group of people crowded around someone. The man, I guessed, though I could not see him.
"It was a trap," he said, breathing heavily. "Gurchison, he knew I was coming…ah!" He gasped.
"Did they find out who you were?" Asked another man, dressed in a dark satin doublet and breeches. He did not face me, but he was impossibly tall and muscular.
"No," grunted the injured one. "The bastards weren't that fast."
The muscular one laughed, "Don't worry, Mother; we'll know he's dying when he shows some modesty."
"Silence, Emmett," said the woman, "Do not speak of death when he is in the room with us."
"Oh why do you do it, Edward?" Pleaded a girl's voice. I couldn't see her over the heads of the others, but she sounded very young. "Father says there are other ways…"
"That's where your father and I have a disagreement, fair cousin," said the man. "Do not worry, I'm always careful."
"Yes we can certainly see that," said another lady sarcastically. She stood next to the muscular one. Her dress was crimson with intricate gold lacing. Her blond hair was partially loose, flowing down her back like silk.
"What has Gurchison done anyway, Edward?"
"My connection found a new bill for parliament on his desk," said 'Edward'. He gave a grim, weak laugh, "It wasn't to my liking. If it had reached parliament then he has enough influence to pass it."
"That is not for certain, Edward," came the clear and authoritive voice of Lord Carlisle. He'd stepped into the view of the door, looking calm with his hands clasped behind his back. "I have also heard of what he wishes – I could have prevented it. There was no need to kill him."
I gasped. Six pairs of eyes suddenly flicked to me.
"Who is she?" Snapped the blond lady, a severe expression on what seemed to be a surreally beautiful face. I blushed and looked down.
I knew I had walked in on a conversation far more private than I'd originally realized.
"How much did you hear?" Demanded the muscular man.
"L – little," I managed to get out.
Lord Carlisle stepped in front of the group. "She is our new guest, Emmett." I was forced to look at him, feeling his powerful gaze on me. "Isabella, you ought to know it is rude to enter a room announced. I will expect better next time."
"Yes my Lord," I whispered, curtsying. I had ne'er felt so small in all my life, people dressed in the richest finery I had ever seen staring at me so condescendingly.
His Lordship nodded, "You may return to your room, then. Dinner is not until seven." He turned to the others, "The rest of you may also leave – I would like an audience with Edward alone."
Their gazes snapped from me as the bowed and curtsied to Lord Carlisle. As they moved, I caught a glimpse of the man. He lay on a richly embroidered lounger, shirtless, though his muscular chest was covered with blood. A ghastly slash reached from his shoulder down to the centre of his chest. But my eyes did not linger on his injury for long, for then I saw his face. He had messy bronze hair, and a classical, pale face with a strong jaw and straight nose and perfect…perfect lips. But for the briefest of moments he looked at me with the most vivid green eyes. He swiftly looked away, and the door shut on the room.
I stood frozen on the stairs, for it was true; I had never seen such a handsome man in my seventeen years on this Earth.
Okay, must be off for some 'zzzz'
Please read Clair de Lune (it's a bit longer with just over 70 thousand words, so you might be further occupied)!
And if you would like see this continued, please send me a Review!