"Welcome back, Young Master!" the servants greeted.
"I'm surprised that the house is still in standing…" Sebastian commented dryly. "And that she is still here."
Merianna puffed her cheek, annoyed at the remark, but she let it pass. While she, Sebastian, Meirin and Bardroy take the suitcases and bags back inside the mansion, Tanaka and Finny took the carriage and horses back around the house. Ciel made his way up to the mansion, his journey wearing him out. Merianna attempted to catch up to him while lugging up a particularly heavy suitcase, happy that he was back. He looked back at her strangely.
"Do you have something to say to me, Merianna?" He asked.
She shook her head, bursting into a small smile. He walked a little slower up the steps until Sebastian came up behind Merianna.
"That looks too heavy for you, and it would be a nuisance if you were to drop it like a klutz. Leave this one to me while you go fetch the other ones." He said.
Although it was said kindly, Merianna saw the annoyance and firmness in his eyes. She relented with a sharp glare at him. For a moment she thought of whacking him with the heavy suitcase and watching him roll down the stairs into a lifeless heap…but resisted the temptation. She didn't even know she was capable of such evil thoughts.
"Oh great, Sebastian is back…" Bardroy muttered, shuddering with fear.
With an angry sniff, she turned back to pick another suitcase to carry in.
Merianna had been trying to avoid Sebastian all day. She would even leave one room she was cleaning to one at the other side of the house if he came near. She would never hear any peace if he were to criticize every move she made. When she was satisfied that the top floor had all been clean, she jumped over to the library. The shelves of books were like a haven to her, a sanctuary. She decided to journey through the world with an atlas today and found them on the opposite side to the novels and adventure books.
She analyzed the maps she didn't recognize. It was labelled 'Cathay' and had various mountains and roads. She read the side notes next to this new land, and it described a heavenly palace with strange monsters and wonders. She was starry-eyed as her imagination filled the blank spots of the maps. She wanted to draw this map, to keep a copy and hang it up on the wall of her room.
She found some parchment paper nearby and searched for a writing utensil. There was a quill and an inkwell nearby and she set the paper over the book, wanting to trace the outline of Cathay. She lay on her stomach near the fire, kicking her feet like a child. She outlined half of the country, adding in the mountain range and various rivers.
She wondered if it was filled with treasures waiting to be snatched up by brave explorers, ghost ships sailing in vast oceans and dragons guarding their hoard of jewels and gold there. In her mind, she was a corsair, captain of a grand ship holding up the letter of marque of the queen while she sailed to the corners of the world and found treasures and new critters to bring back to England.
"Merianna, what are you doing here?"
When she looked up, she was surprised to see her master and the head butler staring disapprovingly down at her. She jumped to her feet, clutching her drawing behind her back and greeted them politely.
"If you have enough time to be lying around the fire, you should be working." Sebastian shot.
"I finished my chores, I assure you!" she shot back.
"What are you doing with that atlas?" Ciel demanded, breaking the tension between them.
"…drawing…" she whispered, looking away from them.
"Aren't you old enough to outgrow drawing doodles and playing around?" He asked sardonically.
She puffed her cheek in irritation. "I want to travel the world in a ship one day. Like a pirate."
Sebastian put his head limply in his hand. "Young Master, I can't tell whether we've hired a maid or a child…"
Ciel simply shook his head and walked to the bookshelf next to her. She glared at Sebastian but continued to draw out the map in front of the fire. She added a ship manned by a miniature-Merianna and various sea serpents in the nearby oceans. It wasn't a masterpiece and her penmanship had gotten rusty, but despite the ink blots and messes, it came alive in her eyes.
"Sebastian…where are the French dictionaries?" Ciel muttered, unable to find them.
Merianna pointed the feather quill at the wall to her right.
"I re-arranged all the books in alphabetical order." Came here reply.
He had an irritated look on his face, and bent down to watch Merianna draw in lakes and desert, as according to the atlas.
"Is that you? In the stupid-looking boat?" He asked.
She nodded, tightening her grip on the quill to appease her anger.
"I have a client who comes from there….What is that?!"
He pointed one of the special figures Merianna decided to add in.
"A dragon. I don't know what kind of animals they have there, so I added in a peluda."
She nodded, noticing the child-like curiosity in his eyes. "La Velue, a dragon that terrorized France with its body made of quills and fire-breath."
"Certainly, those kinds of creatures don't exist." Sebastian scoffed.
"It terrorized the farmers' crops and livestock and ate up people, until one day a brave warrior challenged the beast and chopped off its only vulnerable spot-the tail!"
She imitated the swishing of the sword with the quill pen for dramatic effect.
"Repose en paix!"
Ciel had a blank look on his face; she guessed that he didn't understand her French.
"Repose en paix…rest in peace…requiescat in pace…" she translated.
Although he said nothing, he seemed to have understood it in English. She wondered about his language skills. Especially since his own name was French.
"Don't you know French, Young Master?"
He stood up and put his hands on his hips. "Of course I do, I just don't have the time to practice making up strange sentences I would never need to use!"
He stomped to the dictionaries and quickly picked two, which he gave to Sebastian to carry. She watched as he opened the yellowed and frayed pages. They must have been hardly used and sat on the shelves for millennia. Her master could have asked her for help instead of going through the troubles of a dictionary.
"Do you…do you need help?" She offered.
"No." Sebastian replied.
She obviously wasn't offering him any help, and puffed her cheek in annoyance again.
"Instead of sitting here wasting time and ink, why don't you go make yourself useful and find the other servants to bother?" Sebastian smirked.
She hated his guts.
She went to the servants kitchens with a pile of dirty dishes to wash, carefully holding them to prevent any from dropping. She put them on the counter next to the sink and sighed, rolling up her sleeves and brushing bits of hair away from her face. She filled the sink with water boiling from the kettle nearby and plopped the dishes in. As she was watching, she saw Tanaka walking to her side, two empty tea cups in his hand. He stared at Merianna, the sink and then to the kettle.
"Oh…Tanaka…! W-W-Were you about to use that hot water for tea…?" She stuttered.
He replied with a small laugh.
"I'm…sorry…I'll fetch you more water…sorry…" She mumbled, leaving the dishes and drying her hands with her apron.
She took the kettle in her hands and opened the door that led to the pump for water. She felt something recoil when she opened the door. When it was fully open, a large man in a white suit kneeling on the floor held his face in his hands.
"Oh…I must have…opened the door…on your face…!" She realized. "I'm sorry...!"
She bent down and touched the stranger's shoulder. A static shock ran through her fingers, causing her to jump back with a small 'ow!'. The man rubbed the bridge of his nose, which had turned bright red from the collision with the door. Merianna realized that he too, had white hair, although it was pure white in contrast to her platinum shade. It seemed to complement the suit he wore, devoid of any dark permeating colours. When he recovered, he looked her up and down with a serious face before burying it behind a smile.
"Merianna." She answered. "You must uh...forgive me, sir. I wasn't...err...aware that you were on the other side..."
She scratched her head awkwardly and curtsied, eager to get to the water pump and deal with this noble some other time. His eyes narrowed at her, no doubt he was angry, and he towered over her. She excused herself and side-stepped away, holding a hand up to cover the side of her face. She heard footsteps that were not hers behind her, he was trailing her with a steady gait.
Oh no, he's going to get me in trouble! she lamented.
Merianna quickly reached the water pump and put the kettle down, hurrying to the pump and pushing it as hard as she could. He was still following her, stopping in front to watch. She kept her head down respectfully, as it was rude to meet eyes with someone of higher status. She willed him away in her mind, but he did not budge. The next best thing was to ignore him and stay silent.
"How long have you been here?" He asked.
Merianna took a while to consider if she should answer. If she didn't, her rudeness might be reported to her master, but she felt uncomfortable being pressured to talk by this strange man.
"...I'm new here..." she replied, perhaps he was familiar with the regular Phantomhive staff and was perplexed at her presence.
"Merianna, is it?"
She nodded, finally filling up the kettle. Just as she reached to grab its handle, the man grabbed her wrist and pulled it away from her. She didn't react, but stared dangerously at him. She wasn't allowed to hit someone of higher status, but she would if this man tried anything more. His gloved hands held hers, unwilling to let go.
"Ash Landers. Pleased to meet you. I work for the Queen, delivering her messages to The Majesty's Dog."
Now she really wasn't allowed to hit him. She tried to slip her hand away, but he hand a firm grip that almost hurt. Could she get away with kicking his shin and claiming it was an 'accident'? Merianna still wanted her head tightly bound to her shoulders, not rolling around a guillotine.
He continued. "You must have been surprised by my sudden appearance, young lady. I assure you that I will not harm you."
She was visibly uncomfortable with this man. "Sir...you must excuse me, to my chores." She muttered.
She held her free hand into her chest, already forming a fist with it. She was quietly dispelling her anger, although her inner mind still wanted to punch this man's face and run at the first chance she had. Ash's hand suddenly clamped the back of her head, as if he was pulling her in.
"Let me go!" She yelled.
A sudden crash behind them blew a loud wave of wind and crushed the earth underneath. Merianna was alarmed and closed her eyes at the wave, but when she opened them, she was glad to see Finny there, a hefty cord of wood on his shoulder.
"Sorry, Mr. Landers. I accidentally tripped and this bundle flew off my shoulders. I hope I didn't hurt you." He grinned.
He immediately let go of Merianna. "No, of course not." He muttered.
He coughed and headed back to the mansion. Once he let go, Merianna brought her arms back close against herself, feeling her heart beat like an overexercised cardiovascular organ. (lol) She told herself that it was over now to calm her frayed nerves and shuddered.
"Are you alright, Meri? He didn't do anything to you, did he?" Finny asked. "Are you alright?"
She nodded. "Thank you, Finny. I don't know what he was after...but..."
She rubbed her shoulders and looked to the side. "He makes me um...he makes me...tomber dans les pommes...very uncomfortable...I'm not quite sure how to translate that."
He picked up the filled kettle for her. "I'll walk you back then."
Sebastian appeared at the doorway just as she put the kettle on the stove.
"Merianna, go take Pluto on a walk around the perimeter of the forest."
Merianna was left to find Pluto by herself while Sebastian left to go back to his master. She went around the hallways, trying to find the dog-man. She left the mansion to try to find him in the gardens. He was nowhere and she returned to the house, resolving to ask the other servants if they've seen him. Upon passing one room, she heard voices behind the slightly-ajar door. It was Ciel and Sebastian talking. She stood outside the door, wondering if she had to courage to ask for their help. No doubt they would think her stupid, but perhaps they've seen him.
"It seemed that all the possessions in the house are accounted for, Young Master."
"That's good." Ciel replied uninterestingly.
Were they talking about her?
"But we still cannot trust her. Think of her background...coming from the streets. She has quite a reputation there, half of the townspeople in the poor district call her a witch, and the others call her a little thief."
"Sebastian, that's enough." Ciel stated. "As long as she doesn't interfer with my work, she will be allowed."
Her heart leapt at his defending her. Although Sebastian was definetly her enemy now.
"According to her national document, she was born to an immigrant of a French...who came from Italy. That's a bit far...almost like her mother was running away from something. She arrived without a husband, and with child."
"Those circumstances are irrelevant." Ciel claimed.
Sebastian continued, reading from a long document. "And she was a suspect to the London police before. A suspect, but she was cleared of suspicion following an alibi provided by a Jake Hawkins. A Jake Hawkins that does not exist according to the records."
Merianna held her breath as Ciel Phantomhive could not dismiss that information. True, there were police who questioned her about a murder case in her youth, but she had never though they would suspect a child of murder. She suspected Sebastian of twisting his words to make Ciel suspicious of her. Did he hate her that much? She wanted to leave and ignore the whole situation. Just as she turned around, Pluto sat in front of her, leash in his jaws, and let out a sharp bark.
She panicked, her position given away. She whispered Pluto's name and hurried down the hall, beckoning him away from the room. Together, they ran down the stairs and outside. She gently pried the leash from his mouth, wiping the saliva off on her apron and leashed him. Despite her initial uncomfortableness with him, he seemed much more jovial and friendly to her now. He barked excitedly and started dragging her along the lawn. Even if she sat down and centered her weight, he would still be able to drag her small body along.
Eventually, he stopped and started rolling around in the grass, yanking the leash out of her hand. She watched and squat down beside him, head in her hand. She sighed, thinking about her future from now on. As long as her Young Master and her dear friends trusted her, she didn't need anything else. She reached out a hand and surprisingly, Pluto nudged his head underneath it, begging to be petted. She smiled and sat down, giving him a rough rub on his scalp.
"At least you aren't conspiring against me." She confided.
"No one is conspiring against you." came a voice.
She snapped her neck around to see the black-clad butler staring down at her with a cruel smile. She stayed quiet, but glared angrily at him. Insults were beginning to form inside her head, but she kept them inside for the sake of being polite.
"What are you even doing here?" He asked.
She resolved to ignore him and keep silent, focusing her attention on petting Pluto and straightening his bow. He replied with silence as well.
"He's my prey. Remember that." He warned.
As he turned to walk away, she couldn't help but blurt out a confused 'huh?' He stopped.
"I know your kind, vulgar species." He spat.
She gave a small 'hmph' and thought him pretentious.
Species...? Kind...? It was like coming from the poorer districts made her a completly different species than him. Her mind clicked to his words again. Something in her memory told her something was wrong, but what? Was it his voice? No, that was just a distraction. Although she paid him no heed, she still kept an eye on him through her peripheral vision. Her hand shot up to her mouth when she realized the colour of his eyes changed. It changed from its usual cold, taciturn black to a demonic glimmer of red and yellow.
No human had eyes like that.
Merianna was on her toes while she stood beside Meirin and Bardroy, in attendence during her master's dinner. Although she was hardly moving from her spot, she expected her Young Master to call on her at any time. Or for Sebastian to suddenly turn into a hideous goat-demon and gobble them all up. Her hands turned white from clasping them so hard and she shrunk away, hoping to not be seen. Time passed by without any surprises, but she was still tense. Ciel Phantomhive finished his dinner and clapped his hands. The servants were all alerted and watched as he stood up from his chair. He wiped his mouth with a napkin.
"Elizabeth is having her debutante party this weekend, and she has been kind enough to extend the invitations to everyone in the Phantomhive household. I expect you all to behave yourselves..." He announced quietly.
"P-Party?!" Meirin squealed, "B-B-But, Young Master, we haven't even chosen anything to wear!"
The servants all had a mixture of surprised and excited faces. Especially Tanaka.
"That will all be taken care of...tomorrow." He replied.
Merianna quietly washed the dishes, handing them to Meirin to rinse and dry. Meirin was jittery with excitement and went on about the men she would meet there and the wonderful dresses she would wear. Merianna kept to herself, unsure of how such a high-class event would unwind. She wasn't that interested in a party after all. In fact, she was a bit anxious to be with so many upper-status people. Still, Meirin's enthousiasm had a contagious quality.
"Have you been to a party before, Meirin?" She whispered.
Perhaps she would have some tips on the etiquette required.
"Many, but never one as grand as a debutante party!" She exclaimed. "And at such a young age too!"
Merianna wasn't quite sure what a 'debutante' was. Her only experience with parties were the guests felt more generous than usual and it was very good picking for thieves. Still, she nodded her head slowly to reassure her friend.
Meirin laughed. "You know, you can just ask me if you need to know about parties and how to behave...!"
Merianna blushed with shame, but took the opportunity to ask questions from the kind of food served to the kind of people serving them. Although their conversations became lively, the dishes were even more sparkling than usual.
The next day, Merianna was sweeping the carpet in the front hall when a large knock interrupted her humming. She opened the door and a stout man with servants behind him carrying large boxes addressed her.
"I am assuming you are going to pay for the transportation fee for the fabrics as well?" He chirped. "Velvets and silks from the corners of the earth and our services are all yours!"
Although he seemed finely dressed and his hair was neatly trimmed, his upper-status, filthy-rich and i-hate-lowly-commoners aura had no effect on Merianna, who just stared at him strangely.
"...Are you here to see Young Master?" she asked, unsure of what else to say.
He sniffed as if that was an insult and shooed her away from the door. She relented, grasping her broom tightly in case they turned out to be bad intruders. Sebastian appeared and greeted the gentleman as a 'Mr. Tills' and showed him and his apprentices to the parlour. She thought about the situation for a moment, these strangers coming into the house with boxes of unknown things, but continued on with her work.
Minutes later, Ciel walked down from the upper floors. Merianna greeted him and bowed politely, stepping out of his way.
"Merianna, have the tailors come in yet?"
"Tailers? Of my knowledge, no one has been following us..." she replied warily.
He grumbled. "Tailors, for the clothing measurements."
She still didn't understand, but he must have meant the men who entered earlier.
"Um...Mr...Tills and his servants are in the parlour..." she answered.
She led him to the parlour room and opened the door for him. Sebastian was apparently entertaining them with various stories while they munched on appetizers. Mr. Tills spotted him and asked him to fetch the head of the house. Merianna stifled a giggle before Ciel shot a glare at her and answered that he was already fetched.
Mr. Tills excused himself for his rudeness and shooed Merianna out of the room. Before she left, Sebastian ordered her to find Bardroy and Finnian, and to bring them to the parlour for their 'fittings' and 'measurements'. She started hearing her master's voice yelling and worrying noises, but she had an order to carry out and she intended to.
She found Bardroy in the kitchen as usual, chewing on a raw carrot to curb his cigarette 'addiction' as he called it. She wasn't sure what he meant, but as long as it didn't cause him to go into coughing fits, she approved.
"Sebastian wants to take your measurements to see if you fit in." she reported.
He asked her to repeat her news, which she did, adding in that they were in the parlour with tailors. He laughed and patted her on the head, correcting her sentence for her and explaining what was happening.
Fittings were how they fit into clothes and suits. To get their size, they had to take various measurements for the hips, chest, waist and other places. She told him about Master Ciel's screaming and he replied that it was nothing to worry about if Sebastian was with him. Frowning, she bade him good luck and set off to find Finny.
"Have you though of what colour would suit you, Merianna?" Finny asked.
She walked back with him into the house after putting away the shears in the shed. They talked about the party, both of them equally anxious. Finnian though, had much more experience.
"Colour? For what?" she questioned.
He giggled. "Your dress, of course!"
She stopped and looked at her own attire, feeling the fabric between her fingers.
"I can't wear this to the party?!"
He sighed and nodded. "It's a formal party, after all. You can't look like a maid when you're there..."
She once wore a dress, but she was so young then that the memory was akin to only reading a story about wearing dresses and never having worn one at all.
"I...I don't want to stand out...! I don't...attend parties..." she said shyly, poking her fingers together.
"It's okay, Merianna! We'll be there with you!"
Meirin had called Merianna to wait outside the parlour room with her, claiming that she had already cleaned the entire house while she was fetching the others. Tanaka was the last male to be dressed, although he didn't need a suit to make him anymore handsome than he was. Meirin waited excitedly, pacing around the front hall, asking Merianna what kind of colour they would pick and if she would have to wear any accessories and nick-nacks.
When the tailor and his apprentices finished up cleaning their fabrics, a new tailoress entered with her five or six apprentices. They took over the parlour room after a quaint greeting with Ciel and Sebastian. The apprentices were all swooning over Sebastian before Ms. Culloch, the tailoress, shooed them into the room with their boxes and finery.
Meirin excitedly took Merianna's wrist and joined them into the room. The apprentices were unpacking everything while Ms. Culloch looked them up and down, as if seeing if a pig was fit to eat. Merianna curtsied politely, Meirin stood perfectly still. Ms. Culloch instantely took hold of Merianna's arm and stretched it out, poking her biceps and elbows.
"A bit lacking." she clucked.
She moved to examine her neck and neckbones, critisizing how thin she was. Merianna only turned red in response. Living on the streets did not grant her any extra protection. She hoped the dress would not bee too revealing or difficult to handle. Ms. Culloch sniffed and moved to Meirin, who she complemented on her more womanly shape.
"Now then. Girls, undress them!"
The flouncy girls came over to Meirin and Merianna, eager to help them out of their clothes. Merianna shrieked that she could do it herself, swatting away their hands. She crept behind a folding screen and hurriedly got into her undergarments. Meirin seemed completely fine with being serviced with them and was undressed in the room.
While Merianna shyly hid behind the screen, she watched as Ms. Culloch took out a ribbon and held it around Meirin's hips, waist, arm and head.
"I think the Rosa palette would suit her." one apprentice giggled. "Her hair is very fine!"
The others agreed as Ms. Culloch stood back to examine her. She clapped and the smallest apprentice brought her a book, paper and a quill. Mrs. Culloch put on her glasses and looked down on the paper, asking for her name.
"Meirin." she replied curtly, spelling it out afterwards.
With a sharp dot, Ms. Culloch directed her stare at Merianna.
"Perhaps an Icier palette, madam."
"No, no! Her colours befit a Sahara!"
Merianna stood in the room, shivering slightly from the cold. The tailoress was having trouble selecting a theme for Merianna, mostly because of her long white hair. Only the debutate, she explained, was allowed to have an all-white dress. Any other palette would contrast her hair, not couplement her eyes enough, or make her seem sick. Not only the colour, but Merianna's lack of body shape had sent Ms. McCulloch into an irritating mood.
"This is impossible to do..." she sighed, defeated. "I will have a dress prepared from a new scheme completely."
She waved for her paper and quill again, brushing away a few strands that Merianna swore began to gray from the sheer stress. The moment Merianna stated her name, she saw Ms. Culloch's eyes widen a bit and nod as she wrote it, as if she had an idea from the inspiration of her name. With that over, she told the girls they could put their clothes back on and for her girls to start packing up. The two Phantomhive servants thanked the tailoress and her apprentices for their time and effort.
By the time everything was back to normal and the tailoress left, it was already dinner, and their meal awaited them in the servants quarters. It was only leftovers from Ciel's dinner, but there was enough for everyone. All of them squabbled about how handsome or pretty they would be in their new clothes.
"And then, Meri went bright pink when they told her to undress!" Meirin laughed.
"Meirin...! Don't tell them that!" She whined.
"Well, if we're lucky we'll have the design sent to us in two days...just in time for the hairdress to take a look at it when she comes too!"
Merianna almost fainted. The last lady had such a fuss with her hair, which she didn't see have any relevence to her clothing, but now there was to be a hairdresser too. One who would, undoubtably, question Merianna's hair colour and fuss over it.
"I think Young Master's should call an undertaker instead for me..." she sighed as she sunk into the chair.