Ok, I promised that I'd write a Clyrnin AU sometime, and this is the first part of it; this chapter is predominatly the lead-up to the Clyrnin part, so I'm ever so sorry for that, but if you want a decent story, you need this, right?
As for my writing in general, I've had very little time in recent weeks to write, and on Tuesday, I made a spurr of the moment decision to apply to Oxford, so I've got extra tests to do for that soon...so yes, that's basically why I've not written a lot recently!
Oh, and I've taken some liberties with Shane's character in this story, but, underneath, I've tried to get him as near to what I see him in the books as.
"Miss, your mother would like a word."
The servant's words come from behind Claire, and she turns slowly to see Henry, her mother's messenger boy, standing in the door to her private rooms, his hands behind his back.
"I don't suppose that she happens to have passed on her reasoning for why she wants to interrupt my afternoon, has she?" she shoots back waspishly, knowing in the back of her mind what her mother wants to talk to her about; she just doesn't want to admit it. "Or does she just feel the need to interrupt my learning so that she can inform me that she has a new fabric for her dress for the festivities with the king, and she wants my opinion on it?"
Henry doesn't comment, as usual; he merely waits by the door for Claire to stand up and walk with him down the winding hallways to her mother's rooms, the walls lined with the darkest of woods and the most vibrant of materials—and it still makes Claire sick. She hates the house and how obvious it is that her family have money—the Danvers are one of the richest families in England, and they don't half show it—because even though she's grown up here, she knows what it's like on the other side. And if she's honest, she would rather live in a modest home with a modest income than another house like this, because this isn't a home in Claire's opinion: it's a show house.
They move swiftly towards her mother's preferred room during the day, Claire thinking in her mind about the book she had been given by her friend, Elizabeth; it's about science and the theories of what their bodies are like—wild, rash, heretical ideas, in the Pope's eyes, but Claire doesn't care. It fascinates her more than sewing or talking with other girls her age does, fascinates her to the point that her mother threatens to forbid her from reading another book, and even makes her consider slipping into the lower town, where she knows a scientist lives, in order to bribe him to teach her how to work his equipment.
"Claire!" her mother says sharply, and Claire jumps slightly, realising that she's managed to arrive at her mother's door and enter the room without even being present in her mind; the thoughts of reading another of Vesalius's discoveries about the human body managed to distract her from whatever horror her mother has for her today.
"Yes, Mother?" she inquires politely, taking a seat on the chaise lounge facing the older version of herself. Claire's mother is her spitting image, albeit with wrinkles and a slightly fuller figure, and Claire knows that if she grows old to look like this, she'll be considered splendid—just as all the men at court continue to view her mother as, whenever they make the trip to the king's court.
"Were you daydreaming again?" she asks Claire, yet doesn't wait for an answer; instead, she picks up a scroll and unwinds it, her eyes flicking over it. "This is a letter from Lord Collins, the prospective suitor I informed you about weeks ago."
"Is there a relevance to you informing me of this now, Mother, or is it merely so that you could distract me from the rather more enjoyable things I was doing?" Claire replies, her tone slightly more insolent than usual, but she doesn't drop eye contact with her mother after speaking.
After a pause that seems too long to be normal, yet slightly too short to make the mood tense, Claire's mother smiles. "I wanted to inform you, Claire, that Mr Collins shall be arriving here tomorrow morning, and before he does, I want to ensure that every one of the books about your little science interests are gone from your library. He does not need to know that you have such…interests, not until you are married."
Unable to help herself, Claire stands up, her skirts rustling around her, and it's with a Herculean effort that she manages to resist shouting at her mother; it wouldn't be proper, after all, and she is nought but a lady, is she? "If that is what you desire, to remove every part of my personality in order for me to marry someone who I most likely will share no common ground with—how old even is he?—then so be it. You will make your daughter unhappy and she will resent you, but if that makes you certain that he will want to marry me, then do what you please." With this, Claire takes her leave from her mother's rooms, storming down and out into the grounds.
Having emerged into the grounds, Claire begins to stomp around her usual route that she uses to calm down—ninety five percent of the time used after a conversation with her mother—muttering to herself about how ridiculous it is that her mother wants to remove such an integral part of her life, just to ensure that a man they've never met will think that she's nothing more than a normal seventeen year old. He won't care about her brain, her interests, the fact that she doesn't want to grow up and have her only worries be which colour napkins to use with the most exquisite tablecloth they own, as her mothers seem to be…and that worries Claire. If he doesn't know what to expect, he isn't going to ever let her, is he?
She frets and rants her worries to herself as she walks, the bottom of her dress becoming lathered in the mud that adorns the grounds in the spring, but she barely notices as she comes to her conclusion: she will allow her mother to remove her books (bar the ones that she manages to smuggle away as literature fit for a woman to read) and she won't make a judgement on this man before she meets him. The illustrious Shane Collins has never made an appearance at court when she has; there is a chance that they could be happy together—if he asks her to marry him.
So she shall reserve her judgement. Claire just doesn't believe that the chance of this man being what she wants is particularly high at all…
Three days later, and Claire finds herself waiting in the drawing room closest to the front door of the house, the house's expected visitor, Lord Collins, due in approximately ten minutes. Even though she promised herself that she wouldn't be nervous, butterflies are flying around her stomach, and only careful recital of things such as the order of bones in the body from her skull down to her baby toes keeps her from going crazy, or admitting to her mother how she feels.
Her mother continues to mutter about the state of Claire's hair, how her vacant expression (due to her method of keeping calm) is just going to make her look like a mentally redundant person, and oh, how she wishes that she had had the gardener pick the roses today, rather than yesterday, to prevent the slight wilt that had occurred overnight—absolutely nothing that interests Claire.
Just when it's getting too much for Claire to handle—she'll snap at her mother soon, she knows she will—the door opens, and they both stand up at once, their eyes focused on those entering the room.
At the front is her father, but just behind him is the man she presumes to be Lord Collins—and he takes her breath away. Whilst she was expecting someone more than about a decade older than her, he looks her age almost, maybe just into his third decade of life, and he's…more handsome than she ever dared to expect him to be.
"Good morning," he says, sweeping into a bow before Claire and her mother, and they both respond as they are expected to: by curtseying to their guest. "How are you, this fine day?"
Claire's mother doesn't speak, and so it's left to Claire to respond. "I am good, thank you, Lord Collins, and yourself?"
He smiles as he takes a step closer to her, yet remaining the respectable distance of almost five metres away, and Claire feels her heart begin to race faster and faster. "I am particularly well, now that I have had the honour of making your acquaintance, Miss Danvers. I trust that we will have the opportunity to spend time together, over the duration of my stay with your parents?"
She nods this time, deigning not to speak, because as he flashes her an even wider smile, she feels herself begin to almost faint; she's never felt like this with a man before, never felt as though she wants to do anything he wants, and yet to tell him everything she's ever felt, at the same time—it's not just friendship. She's spent approximately two minutes in his company, and she thinks that she's already falling in love with him.
It's ridiculous that she could have done this in such a short time span, and so she deliberately takes a step back from her prospective husband, running through the bones in her arm in order to gather her thoughts back into a logical order, one that won't betray how she thinks that he's the most handsome man that she's ever met.
"I shall see you at dinner; for now, I must go and take a walk around the garden," she says, a smile gracing her lips, and as she curtsies to him, she sees the murderous glint in her mother's eyes; she evidently isn't happy at Claire's actions.
She doesn't care, though. This is her life, not her mother's, and anyway, she needs the time away from the set up of preparing herself for a life of marriage and children (potentially) with Shane Collins. But as she reaches the door, someone has a different idea.
"I would really rather like to see the grounds," Shane—she feels confident enough in her own mind now to call him that, rather than his formal title, because it doesn't seem to fit someone so young—says, and without Claire doing anything, her heart leaps. "I wouldn't suppose you would mind having another accompany you on your walk?" he asks, and as Claire turns around, she already knows that she would take him anyway, even though her mother will force her to take him.
"Certainly," she replies with a smile, taking a step out of the door, yet still facing her parents and the others in the room. "We shall be back before lunchtime, Mother; there will be no need to panic."
And with this, she walks down towards the front door, her guest catching up as they reach the doors, and it's with a smile that Claire accepts Shane's arm, already feeling as though she's known him for her entire life.
"You're awfully young to be someone with such power in the country," she says to Shane as they near the end of their walk around the gardens. The bottom of her dress is covered in mud, as it always is, but she knows that today, her mother won't moan about how much effort and time it takes their servants to wash it—it's been muckied for a good cause, apparently.
They've moved onto the topic of Shane now, after Claire explained away her family's history, and he's been rather cagey thus far—but now she's mentioned his title, he laughs. "Ah yes, well, that would be due to the fact that my father did own the title, until he was killed three years ago, along with my mother and younger sibling. I now own the entire estate, and am therefore one of the King's Lords of England."
Claire immediately puts a hand to her mouth at the mention of the dead members of his family, and immediately apologies. "I'm extremely sorry for mentioning it—please forget that I did."
Shane stops and shakes his head, turning to face Claire. "I'd rather you knew than that you continually wondered whether I possessed great skills that I do not, and therefore was granted the Lordship for that," he says, his grip on her arm now moving slowly so that he can take her hand—and Claire doesn't mind. "For I am a man of few talents, Miss Danvers, and something I think will help me to shine is a beautiful, brilliant wife…and, if I may be so bold as to comment so early in our courtship—if that is indeed what we are entering into—I believe I may have already found the one."
Somehow, Claire manages to remain rather aloof and coy, studying Shane's face at the same time as reciting different organs of the body, and she smiles in the same manner. "Why yes, I do believe that this is the beginning of a courtship between ourselves," she says in response, fluttering her eyelashes. "But that doesn't mean that you can just skip out the race and decide we're going to marry…you do understand that, I am sure?"
He smiles back at her, beginning to walk back towards the house, and for the briefest second, Claire is disappointed; she half thought that he was going to kiss her or something of the sort—but evidently not. They've known one another for only an hour or two—it is far too fast, of course it is…though she's still disappointed.
She's scared of her own feelings now; only this morning, she was certain that she wouldn't love him, that she was being forced into this, but the general feeling she has now is that she wants Shane Collins, she wants to marry him and to make sure that they're together for a long, long time. He's beautiful, and from what she can tell about him, he's funny, and kind too—the things that she's always looked for in those she associates herself with.
Just before they return to the house, under the shade of one of the old oak trees, Shane stops, and Claire stops alongside him, confused as to why he would want to rest when they're so close to the house, until his hand moves up her arm once again. His fingers trace her shoulder and Claire smiles, presuming what's going to happen next—and it does.
Shane's lips press down on hers softly, her back against the tree trunk, and it's more than anything she could have ever imagined for her first kiss; it's beautiful, magical, perfect—all the positive adjectives in the world combined couldn't explain it adequately.
When they break apart, Claire's smiling, wondering how their relationship can get any better than it already is—and they've got so much longer to even court, given the brevity of their time together thus far—because he's perfect for her, she's certain…she just needs to broach the subject of science. But that can wait for another day; they've got the rest of their lives together, she's sure.
(And she's glad that they have.)
The weeks pass, and they're spent doing almost the same thing every day; Claire and Shane get the chance to talk to one another in the mornings, though mainly with another in the room, and the afternoons are spent with either Shane sitting with her father, or the two of them heading into the local town in order to take a walk around, or to purchase a new item. When they realise that they require no escort on these trips, save the driver, the duo decide to frequent Claire's nearest civilisation almost every day, taking their time as they pass through the streets, in no hurry to return to the pressures that surround them in the manor house.
They kiss more and more as the weeks go by, sometimes even with another in the room, and yet as they grow closer, almost to the point that they know everything about the other, Claire begins to think that their compatibility was based on the impression he made on her in those first few moments. His charm, his beauty, his ability to win her heart without even trying…they could possibly have been the reason that she swooned almost immediately.
Thinking about it, in the few hours of the day that she doesn't have either Shane or her mother around, Claire begins to compile a list of things that they have in common: they both enjoy riding, discussion and, though it makes her blush to admit it, engaging in kissing one another. That's it; she doesn't enjoy hunting (though admittedly, that is a man's sport) and he doesn't understand her love for reading—when she happened to mention that learning is something that means a great deal to her, he seemed to roll his eyes and move the subject onto something else. And she hasn't even dared mentioning science, let alone explaining her passion for it, for if he cannot understand her desire to learn Latin, why would he understand her wanting to learn the mechanics of what makes everything as it is?
He wouldn't. That's something that scares Claire, because this image of herself that he's seeing—it's not true. She's missing the greatest part of her life, missing the thing that completes her, because her mother thinks that to inform Shane of her love for anything other than him and doing 'feminine things' would cause him to run—and it probably would. Claire can't say that she knows for definite that he would stay, despite them being completely different, so for now, it's easier to pretend that they're almost the same, and that their differences will only make for more things to talk about.
It's been three weeks though, and every day, every kiss, has brought with it another thought of doubt, another I don't want to do this, running through her head, though she's tried to expel them numerous times. As she reminds herself every time the words science and not Shane appear in her mind, she reminds herself that her parents want this for her, and they have her best interests at heart. They want this, and so she'll go through with it—as she does feel something for him, after all. It's not been long; once their marriage has occurred and they've known one another in a different manner, she's sure that the spark will return that was there the first few days, and she'll remain completely, irrevocably in love with Shane Collins for the rest of her life.
More than that, he wants it. She can tell that he does; whenever she walks past, whenever they spend time together, his eyes are never off her, and she can read his expression easily. He isn't guarded around her, the way he can be with others, and even when they're not completely alone, Claire feels that Shane is comfortable enough to share with her things that other people don't know.
She knows that he isn't entirely comfortable with being a Lord, because it means that everyone expects him to know what to do, and he doesn't want that, he doesn't want responsibility. England is a very confused place at the minute, according to Shane, and Claire pretends not to have followed every piece of correspondence that her father has received about it, instead allowing Shane to tell her what he knows. She knows that this holiday is what has made his year, the near lack of work he's had to do over the past month leaving him relaxed and able to enjoy time with her—she knows that he loves her, because how could he not, when he's murmuring unintelligible things against her skin after their lips break apart?
It's obvious in his eyes, obvious in every word that he says, and even her mother's noticing. "I wouldn't be surprised if he asked your father for his permission to marry you tomorrow!" her mother exclaims as soon as Shane bids them a good night and returns to his rooms. "Oh, Claire, you are doing exactly as I asked—and without your science and silly books!"
Claire rolls her eyes, not bothering to mention to her mother that she's been reading her secret books over and over again every night when she retires to her bedchamber, because what purpose would it serve? The duration of Shane's visit has proven to Claire that she has no real say in what goes on, and also that it's best not to antagonise if possible; if keeping quiet about her illicit reading means that her mother remains happy, then that will be fine. Whenever she's married, Claire can always get the books back—she will. There is no doubt about it that whenever she leaves this house, all of her possessions are leaving with her.
"I shall see you in the morning, Mother," Claire says politely, leaving the room without another word and heading back to her own room.
Little does she know that on the other side of the manor house, her father is giving permission to Shane to ask for her hand in marriage.
They're walking through the grounds the following morning, Claire's arm around Shane's, and underneath the tree where they first kissed, he stops. "Why are we stopping?" she inquires, not thinking of even a kiss—they've shared enough on this walk alone, and even though she still enjoys them, they don't bring the same passion they once did.
He surprises her then, by dropping down to one knee in front of her, and taking her left hand. "Claire Danvers, I have known you for but a few weeks, yet I already believe you to be the one for me," he says quietly, and Claire feels her heart break: he does love her, he does, she can hear it in his voice. "Please do me the honour of accepting my proposal of marriage, and become my wife."
The hesitation Claire has is microscopic; she knew before he ever proposed that she would be expected to accept, and all she's done is appear to have feelings for Shane—which, in the first few days, she did have. How could she turn down a proposal that seems to stem from love, something so few marriages ever does? She may not love him, at least not yet, but he loves her, and she thinks that even if she had the choice not to marry him or not, she would probably do so anyway, just in order to leave his heart intact.
"Yes," she whispers, the word not even necessary—why wouldn't she marry him? As Shane stands up, she feels a flash of anger at the fact that he knew she would marry him—even if not for love, but because he's wealthy and will be able to do great things for her family; even if they didn't love one another, she would be accepting anyway. And that hurts her a little, makes her feel a little dirty, because they all preach morality and 'making the right decision', but when you look at marriage, just how few of them are matches that came about solely for love? Not many, Claire bets, but before she can consider debating this in her mind, Shane's kissing her, and his elation is spreading into her—and like on those first days, she feels as though she could be absolutely, one hundred percent in love with him. All she wants is him.
"We're going to be happy together," he tells her as they walk back up the path to the manor house to officially inform the house that most likely already knows that Shane was proposing today.
"I know," is all Claire can manage in response, wrapping her arm around Shane's as they approach her home. All she wants is to be happy, to feel nothing but happiness for the rest of her life.
And she'll try her absolute best to ensure that this occurs—just honestly, she doesn't think it's viable.
Within four weeks of the wedding, she's beginning to think that she has made a mistake.
Their wedding was beautiful, she can't deny it; even though she's never been the most girly of girls, Claire felt that she could never have had a more perfect day to celebrate the moving on from her parents' home to that of her new family. Their vows were quiet and yet she knew that Shane meant every word; whether she did or not, she to this day still can't tell, but she knew that she sounded convincing.
After the wedding night, everything seemed to spring back into the focus that she felt she had with Shane in the first days of their courtship; he shined brighter than anything else in the world, even more than science, and it was as though nothing but him mattered—she wanted to please him, to be with him, to be close to him as much as was socially acceptable.
Now, though, it's beginning to wear off, and no longer does she want to spend every minute around him, giving him what he wants, telling him how much she loves him (she's decided that she does love him, she's just not sure how much at the minute) because that doesn't interest her—neither does merely sitting in the garden, as he expects her to do. He's returning to his daily business, whatever that may be, and she has nought that interests her enough to sustain her for an afternoon.
Her books are still on their way over from her parents' home, and she's desperate for something to read, some new scientific discovery that she can absorb into her, as though she didn't ever not know it…but that's impossible. She doesn't feel confident enough to ask Shane to buy her the books, particularly as he flashed her a look of annoyance when she told him she was bringing her personal library of educational books with her, so she has two options: to sit around the house all afternoon, until she can be distracted by sitting down to eat dinner, or to go and discover the local town.
These are her only choices, and she realises that the first one will drive her so completely into needing Shane that the independence of her youth will be lost; there will be nothing for her to do save for looking for Shane and desiring him, and that isn't something that she wants. Claire has always loved the chance to be free, to run through the fields and disappear for hours on end and not be worried about, because she knows how to get home. She doesn't want to be reliant on another, not both economically and socially, and that's what makes her mind up: she's going to head down towards the town half a mile away.
Having made her decision, she swiftly moves to her chambers, allowing one of her ladies to aid her with the removal of her finer dress, and to put on one more suited for walking the short distance; she doesn't want to use one of the grand carriages, because then it would feel too formal, and anyway, she wants the anonymity factor in the town. Using one of the Lord's carriages would only mark her out to be Lady Collins, and at least for today, she wants the chance to be nobody. She wants to enter the town, perhaps make a small purchase or two, and to return without facing the annoyance of being extremely polite to the populace there.
Before she leaves, she heads down the hall to Shane's study, where she knocks on the door softly, hearing the words "come in" before she opens it.
"Hello, darling!" he says with a smile, standing up and approaching his wife, pressing a hand on her shoulder. "Is there something I have forgotten to do? Or an appointment we made that I have marked down on the wrong date, for you seem to be wearing walking clothes?"
She shakes her head slowly, a smile on her lips. It's hard to explain her feelings, given that she's had so many highs with Shane throughout their short time together, but the chance for her to be independent once more is intoxicating, something that she needs—she can't be only Shane Collins' wife.
"No, my love, I am merely taking a trip down to the town," she tells him honestly, her own hand moving to clasp one of his. "I feel the need for a walk in the fresh air to think through my thoughts in peace, so I considered it a good idea to combine getting to know the local town and doing this at the same time, no?"
Shane nods slowly, his eyes on Claire, and then he smiles. "Of course, that is certainly a good idea—you need something to do, after all." There's the slightest hint of bitterness in his tone, and Claire attributes that to an inference towards her science books but she overlooks it, as she has always been taught to do. "I hope that you enjoy the scenery, it is truly beautiful. If you are not back by dinnertime, would you like me to send George, just on the off chance that you may become lost?" he asks, sounding concerned for her, and Claire nods slowly.
"That would be most appreciated," she replies, her voice seeming oddly stiff and formal with her husband, someone who, only three days ago, she was murmuring her 'love' for at every opportunity she had. "Thank you for understanding my need to…do something. I shall see you this evening," she continues, unsure how to phrase things, and Shane laughs.
"Oh, you do make me smile so, my Claire," he tells her, taking one of her hands and pulling her into him, pressing their lips together. "I hope that you enjoy your trip and do not spend all of the money we have!" he laughs, and releases her.
She doesn't say anything as she moves towards the door, merely turns back to see him staring after her as she leaves the room, and realises that whilst she's wavering on her feelings for him, he hasn't stopped loving her—and she doubts he ever will.
As she walks down towards the village, her mind is a mixture of scientific equations and guilt that she's with him, and yet still doubting her feelings—she's told him she loves him enough, so why can't she believe this? Why does she always have to focus on the negatives of their relationship, remember every second that they're almost polar opposites? Claire knows that if he understood science, or at least understood her need to understand science, then she would never be trying to analyse her feelings to see where her heart truly lies. They would be perfect.
But he doesn't, so that's what's happening: everything that she now calls her life is being called into question, because he can't understand the thing that makes her whole. He can't understand it, and he won't even try to, and that's the worst part; he won't even attempt to read one of the books that she has. If he at least read it, if he tried to understand what enthrals her so, then she wouldn't mind that he hates it—but he doesn't, he won't, and Claire doesn't think that she can live with that.
Well, she'll have to—they're married. She would never wish death on anyone, but his dying would be the only way for her to leave this marriage. Claire's sure that she can survive a loveless marriage, even if it means that they end up leading almost completely separate lives once the novelty of their being wed wears off Shane—if it ever does.
Looking up, Claire realises that she's covered more ground than she originally thought: she's already approaching the first signs of civilisation, with little cottages dotted along the road, and just in the distance, Claire thinks that she can just about see the town there. It isn't big, certainly nothing like what she's used to, but that should make it more exciting, and harder for her to get lost.
That's what she's hoping, at least.
Within forty five minutes, Claire's finished with selecting enough purchases that, if she had taken her time, would be enough to constitute a few hours in the town. So now, she has time spare in order to wander around, and hopefully find a solution in her head to the war between love she has for science and the guilt she has with regards to her feelings towards Shane. That's the aim, at least, and if she doesn't complete it within about three or so hours, she will have to return to Shane, confused and unsure about what her mindset is.
Claire begins to walk away from the main shopping street of the town, heading down one of the side streets which leads to the meadows she thinks; she's basing this theory on the direction of the roads and where she happened to see large expanses of ground when she drove with Shane from the church to their new home, so she's happy to see that her thoughts have paid off: within a few more turns, she's at a large area of open ground.
There doesn't seem to be any clear ownership of the land, given that no crops seem to be sown, and it looks deserted (which makes no sense, due to its proximity to the town centre) so Claire begins to wander up and down, making random turns in the grass as she thinks and thinks, trying to clear everything from her mind and rearrange it into a logical order, one that means she knows what she's doing. Claire begins to put things into lists, into science versus Shane, and the science column is winning by far: she cannot stay with Shane and not even have her science! It's absurd to think that she ever could, given by how much of an outright majority it has over merely Shane…
It's at this point that Claire recalls that she has her delivery of books coming: she can have both! A relief removes itself from her mind, leaving behind only the burden as to whether or not she can ever come to love Shane, as she felt she did in the first days, but she can save that for another day—for today, she has her science, and that's all that matters.
Buoyed along by the thoughts of rereading one of her favourite books by Vesalius, Claire begins to make the walk back to the town's main street, and from there, home, but when she makes the turns she thinks are right, in order to return there, she finds herself down a different street, one that she didn't see before. It's darker than the others, the walls seeming closer together, the bricks uncared for and their crevices filled with moss, and the feeling in the air is almost as though she's unwanted. Nobody is here, Claire notices, and the silence seems more…terrifying here, more as though she ought to be afraid of it. In the field, the silence helped her, was soothing almost—now, it seems as though it's the forewarning to being killed.
Yet she does what any other brave, yet slightly idiotic person does: she advances down the alleyway.
It makes sense to, in Claire's mind; alleyways generally lead to the back of more dense regions of the town—here, Claire presumes that that would indeed be the city centre—and so therefore, it makes sense to head down it…even if the hairs on the back of her neck are standing up.
Allowing herself a shiver, Claire begins to walk relatively quickly down the alleyway, the noise of her shoes clacking on the hard ground echoed through the walls. It's the only sound in the nearby vicinity, though as Claire moves further and further down the alleyway, the feeling that something isn't quite right growing more prominent with every step that she takes. She doesn't understand why a street could be so empty, with not even the sound of a woman cleaning to break the quietness, when it's the middle of the day; surely things ought to be midway through being completed, children should be playing in the streets, people ought to be on their way home from the shops…but no, there's not one sign of life down the street.
It's at this point that Claire's nose picks up the scent of magnesium burning—she recognises the smell because once, when she had one of her more extrovert and radical governesses, she had the opportunity to take part in some experiments—and she frowns; for what reason would there be the smell of magnesium down a residential street? It isn't, as far as she's aware, regularly used in the home, its properties when burnt proving it to be not non useful, so the only explanation could be…a scientist lives down here.
Claire's pace picks up dramatically, the fear due to the silence wiping itself away from the forefront of her mind as she lifts her skirts and heads further down the street. As she does so, her eyes focus on the doors that appear sporadically, aiming to see if she can see even the slightest bit of life from behind it to warrant her opening the door and explaining away her curiosity. She does this for the entire length of the alleyway, realising as she reaches the final ten metres that it's a dead-end; she has one more door to check, and though the scent of the magnesium is certainly much stronger here, she can't confirm whether or not it is coming from here or not.
As she reaches the door, a noise sounds suddenly, startling her; it definitely came from behind the door, a sharp sound—one that she would normally associate with a servant banging on a piece of metal. But there is definitely life behind the half-shut door; Claire can see the glow from a candle, and, when she listens carefully, the muttering of someone—a scientist, she's certain of it.
Half-scared about actually meeting a scientist, and completely fearless because he's a scientist (it won't be a woman, she's almost one hundred percent positive of this fact) Claire attempts to knock on the door, but merely pushes the door open with her action, revealing a cluttered workspace.
She believes they're called laboratories, where serious scientists work, and as she stands in the doorway, she's entranced by the state of the place before her: it's not at all logically ordered, with stacks of books and papers littering the relatively long and narrow room, and every available space seems to be covered with beakers and glass dishes, but it's beautiful. Merely metres in front of her is a bright light burning in the flames—magnesium, the chemical which almost caused her to go blind, due to the brightness of its flame—and Claire can't help herself as she takes a step forwards towards it, descending into the relative darkness of the laboratory without even thinking about its owner, or just where he is…
"Hello, there." A voice comes from the side of the fire, and Claire jumps slightly, her eyes averting themselves from the fire as he speaks, and towards the speaker. "I would recommend not looking directly into the flames, it…"
"Burns them and can damage your vision," she finishes automatically, unable to help herself as she does so. "Sorry, I just know…I had a bad experience with magnesium a few years ago, with my governess."
The man before her is strange, she thinks; whilst he looks like a regular gentleman of his mid-twenties (or so she presumes) with shoulder length hair, he's wearing a shirt that she doesn't recognise from the current style, and as she looks at him, looks into his eyes, she sees wisdom there that one so young ought not to possess. And yet he also looks amused at the mention of her bad experience, and doesn't seem particularly bothered about her disrupting his experiment.
"If the smell is a concern, I can naturally finish my experiment," he says, and Claire gets the impression that he thinks she is a homeowner in the area. "Though you seem remarkably well-informed about the elements for one so young…" he trails off, and Claire blushes ever so slightly, taking a step towards him as he speaks. He's paler than normal men, she notices, and then realises that she ought not to make presumptions about matters of this nature—it is not her place, after all.
"Oh no, no, I don't live down this street!" she clarifies immediately, reaching out to pick up some tongs from the bench next to the fire. It doesn't seem to be contained to a pile of wood, the fire; it's as though a metal pipe contains fire…but that's impossible. As she contemplates this, the man clears his throat and Claire jumps again, realising that she hasn't actually explained who she is. "I…I'm Claire. I like science—love it—and I was about to walk home when I smelled the magnesium…I was curious, I'm sorry."
She drops the tongs as she speaks, taking a step backwards again, and the man shakes his head. "Don't be sorry, I have never had another be so intrigued about the sciences to come and visit me. I am Myrnin, a master of the little science the world knows thus far, and of alchemy."
Claire gasps, unable to believe that the man—Myrnin—could have mastered something as complex and extraordinary as alchemy. "But…but that takes years to learn! How did you do it?"
He smiles, and as he does, Claire feels something stir inside of her, a warmth that she never realised she was missing. "I have had a long time of teaching—most of my life, in fact—and I had a brilliant tutor to guide me through," he explains, and Claire nods. "I…this may seem rather forward, Miss Claire, yet you are interested in the sciences, and I require an apprentice. If you happen to be free, would you like to learn from me, for me to pass on the knowledge my previous master gave to me?" even though Claire's only known him for mere minutes, she can tell that he is sincere in what he's saying to her: he wants her as an apprentice.
The first word that springs to mind, that Claire finds on her lips, is yes, yes she will be his apprentice—but just before she says it, she bites her lip. She's married; even though this is to learn, it wouldn't look right for her to be spending so much time with another man, in the town. More than that, she's Lady Collins; her role in life is to do charitable work, if she must, and that does not include indulging in hobbies and interests…she cannot do it.
"I'm sorry," she begins, her tone apologetic, because she feels bad for declining his offer—she wants to do it, she really, truly does. She's just honour-bound not to accept it. "I'm married, and it's not particularly appropriate, given my husband's position. If things ever change, certainly, and I…I'm sorry. I most certainly would want to learn from you."
He nods slowly, something changing in his eyes, and the room suddenly feels colder to Claire, even though she's standing beside the fire. "I understand. I hope you enjoy the rest of your existence, Miss Claire, as I most definitely will alongside science." As Myrnin speaks, his voice is the same as it was before, Claire thinks, but he turns away before he adds on, "I must now bid you farewell—I must conduct an experiment before nightfall."
She understands that this is her cue to leave, and as she does, she feels as though she belongs in the laboratory; she wants one of her own, wants to be able to set things on fire and not care about the consequences, wants to be able to conduct investigations into matters that are, as yet, unsolved. She wants to do everything Myrnin evidently does, to learn everything she can from him, and it's only propriety that stops her.
As she walks down the alleyway and back to where she got lost, she realises that if she had followed the signs, she would have returned to the town's centre easily. But she had been too focused on science to notice them.
Perhaps that was a message that she cannot yet understand…
Upon returning home, Claire realises that the three wagons of her belongings from her childhood home must be here; she recognises one of the horses that are in the stable as she walks passed, and she's certain that this is finally the opportunity for her to read one of the books she's missed, oh so much! If not tonight, then she shall spend her entire morning tomorrow reading it, soaking in the words that the man, Myrnin, could teach her—yet he can't. It wouldn't be right, not now that she and Shane are married, so no matter how much she knows she can learn from him, she won't do it. She wouldn't ever compromise her position for that…
"Hello, darling," Shane says as she enters her drawing room to find him standing there. "Did you enjoy your trip to the town?"
She smiles and nods as she moves across to him, allowing him to kiss her before they sit down on the chaise lounge next to one another. "Where are my belongings?" she asks, attempting not to sound too eager for the items that she has sent for.
Shane pulls a face and instinctively, Claire knows what he's about to say, knows that her dreams have been shattered…and that he has something to do with it. "I'm sorry, my dear, but there has been a terrible…occurrence. The wagon carrying your books came into difficulty on the journey, about halfway along, and had to stop on its journey. Word has gotten to us today that it was overcome by thieves, and almost all of your books have been destroyed. I'm sorry."
Somehow, Claire manages to make her face seem surprised, as though she hadn't just figured this out, and she nods slowly. "Well, I can always buy more books, can I not?" she manages to say with a smile, pretending not to notice the look that flits across Shane's face momentarily.
As he pulls her in for a hug, Claire knows that the only way for her to get to learn about science is to go to Myrnin, to learn from the alchemist. She may not know him very well—if, really, at all—but she's aware that if she wants to develop her understanding of science (and alchemy) then she needs to go to him, damning the consequences.
The following morning, as soon as Shane leaves for a three day trip to London, Claire leaves the manor house, pretending to go on a walk around the vast grounds. Taking refreshment with her, she hurries hastily towards the town.
Upon arrival, she makes her way towards the meadow she found yesterday, and then managed to retrace her steps to take her down the alleyway; once again, it's empty, the silence louder than anywhere else in the nearby vicinity, and Claire shudders involuntarily as she nears the end of the path—it's creepy, she can't lie.
Slowly, she raises her fist to knock at the half-open door, and ends up pushing it open, revealing the same haphazardly organised laboratory as before, with the same scruffy man standing in it.
"Hello, Claire," he says, sounding slightly surprised to see her, and she's shocked, too: how did he know it was her before he even turned around?
"I…I'm here to rescind my statement yesterday," she says firmly, taking a step into the laboratory. "I want you to teach me everything you can about the sciences, about alchemy, about what you can do in this laboratory. I want to know everything."
He raises an eyebrow and murmurs, "everything…how so very much like myself you are, my Claire," before nodding. "In that case, we must begin, young one. And I very much look forward to working with you."
As Claire shuts the door, she realises something: she doesn't regret this decision whatsoever, not even for Shane's sake.
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