Moonacre is a sight to behold when the sun has sunk below the horizon to the west. As the light fades from the sky and the area is plunged into darkness the buzzing of forest life ceases and the trees suddenly seem somehow taller and more intimidating, like giants watching over the valley. Birds flutter up to their hidden perches in the canopy and set about rousting. Small rodents and mammals curl up in hollows and dens, a herd of fallow deer huddle closer against the bracing chill in the air. Silence falls slowly and the only thing to be heard is the wind whistling softly through the tree line, causing the branches to sway back and forth as if dancing to some unheard tune. Then a howl can be heard from far off in the hills, quickly joined by another and another until a chorus of howls rent the air. Welcoming the night.
A feeling of enchantment falls over the valley, then the moon rises.
The scene is instantly bathed in pale light, robbed of colour and transformed to a sea of shimmering silver, a wasteland of foliage.
A huge structure stands just outside the forest, on the edge of the moor and like its surroundings, its grey exterior glows with silver. It is built like a fairy-tale castle with large curved towers and rows of battlements. The house was almost entirely silent and dark. Even the horses in the stable block were not moving about or snorting softly.
However, at the top of one of the towers is a small flicker of gold, almost hidden by a large cedar tree that reached its great bows up to the sky.
The westward facing window was flung open to invite in a soft breeze, the flicker of light turned out to be a candle burning low on its wick. Yet still it provided enough light to illuminate the small room, the high ceiling with its illustration of the night sky above, the small writing desk strewn with half finished drawings and books, the door that was so tiny that it could have been designed for fairy folk and finally the light fell on the golden four poster bed that held the body of a young woman, deeply asleep.
Maria Merryweather was not experiencing a peaceful slumber, her delicate eyebrows were drawn close together and, as the candle started to flicker, she murmured something indecipherable and pushed her head further into the pillow. She was obviously in the midst of dream.
Her mind was carrying her far away, floating high above the forest. Suddenly she drifted down and alighted on top of a large oak giving her a clear view of the scene below her.
Thick turf covered the ground and ran up the sturdy trunks that lined the edges of a crescent shaped clearing. The moon slid out from behind a wisp of cloud,
For a moment the air lay still and everything was silent. The wind ceased it's blowing. No crickets chirped no footfall of night predators was heard. It was as if the moon herself was holding her breath in anticipation.
Suddenly, a cracking of twigs echoed through the silent night. A dark figure, cloaked in gray, moved slowly out of the tree-line and came to a halt in the centre of the clearing, face turned upwards to the sky. The upper half of her features were hidden in shadow but the rest was bathed in pure moonlight, revealing a soft, pale jaw line and small rosy lips placed just below a delicate button nose.
The figure raised its hands to the hood and it was slowly drawn back to reveal the rest of her face, still staring at the low hanging moon. First the light fell on softly rounded cheek bones then eyes the colour of a winters sky in the midst of a storm. The girl in the tree felt her breath catch in her throat as her own face was revealed to her, bathed in moonlight.
Yet it was not like her, she looked a few years older than Maria, and she was sure that she had never looked that beautiful in her fifteen short years. This face was terrible and beautiful at the same time and a look of pride was firmly sketched on her exquisite features. Her face was strangely familiar to Maria, almost like a distant memory.
The woman in the clearings cast her eyes up to the sky.
It was certainly a beautiful sight to behold at this hour. The clouds had drifted away completely and the expanse of navy blue stretched the length of the heavens punctuated by piercing balls of light. stars burned brightly in their patterns and constellations. Dancing high above her in deepest space.
A memory flitted through Marias foggy brain, someone lying with her on the grass and pointing up at the stars.
'You know what stars are princess?' He had asked.
She shook her head keeping her eyes fixed upwards.
'They are the cracks in the sky were the light of Heaven shines through.'
'Really?' She turned to face him. Eyebrows furrowed.
He shot her his trademark mocking grin. Very nearly a smirk.
'No, idiot. They are huge balls of fire. Nothing heavenly about them.'
She gave a sarcastic laugh and tried to punch his leather clad stomach. He caught her arm before she could make contact and tickled his way up the sensitive wrists. Giggling and both trying to attack the other they stood up and ran through the trees.
The word was carried to her as a whisper on the breeze and jolted her back to the present. She watched as the girl in front of her turned her head in the direction the voice, causing her burnished golden curls to fall about her pale face.
More twigs snapped as another shape appeared at the edge of the clearing. As it drew closer Maria was able to make out the long head and flowing mane of a horse, its proud little neck arched and its tail held high. The moon reflected off its shimmering coat, causing it to glow. The woman in the clearing cried out in joy at the sight of this lovely animal and it turned its head to look upon her warmly.
But as she made to move towards it another creature emerged from the woods. This time a huge tawny creature was moving towards her with a shaggy coat and a wild burnished mane. The lion padded into the clearing and stopped, surveying her with reproachful eyes.
'Wrolf?' Maria whispered.
He bowed his shaggy head in welcome.
At the sight of Wrolf, the little horse retreated slowly to the far left of the crescent, were the inner curve meets the outer, with her ears pressed flat back against her head. The lion rumbled his disapproval then turned and padded to the far right, leaving the young woman standing in the curve looking at the two beasts before her.
In the tree Maria, started to sense that something was amiss in the scene unfolding before her. The horse was too beautiful, the lion too terrible. A bubble of panic rose in her throat and she tried to call out to the young woman, to warn her away. But she found when she tried to call out, her voice came out as a whimper.
The young woman surveyed the animals, her lovely face clouded with confusion. She tried calling Wrolf to her but he would not heed. Nor would the little white horse. They both simply stood there with their eyes fixed on her, neither moving a muscle. The sight was unnatural to behold.
She took a few tentative steps towards the horse, but stopped dead when Wrolf let out a ground shaking roar. He fell to the ground writhing in agony. A gasp escaped tree-bound Maria, and she tried to run to the lion's side but found that she was not able to move.
The stranger had the same idea but as soon as she turned away from her path the horse let out a piteous whinny and reared, its legs flailing freely then collapsed. She screamed in horror and fled back to her the centre of the clearing, unsure of what to do.
She tried walking to the animals, again and again but each time she tried the other would shriek in agony.
Desperately she called out to the night.
'Please, I beg of you, stop hurting them, stop it please.'
Silence met her words; both animals had stopped crying out and were lying panting in the heather. Two pairs of troubled eyes looked up at her beseechingly.
The young woman in the clearing fell to her knees sobbing. Somehow she was causing this pain and it broke her heart.
'Don't you see?' The trees seemed to whisper, 'You must choose, who will you cherish and who will you leave to wither away?'
She screamed again, and the animals screamed with her. Maria found herself being pulled back across the forest at a great speed leaving the three in the clearing with their agony. Someone was calling her name over and over.
'Maria, Maria! Maria? Wake up.'
Well this is the first chapter
Just to clarify the beginning of the chapter is a description of Moonacre, where as after we see Maria asleep it moves to her dream. I know this one is a little dark but the mood should lighten from here on in. I should be updating the next chapter straight away and I'm midway through the third, please leave a review for me so I can improve. I would also love to hear your ideas on the story, dont be shy!
This could turn out to be quite a long one, just so you know.