The silence was dangerous, deadly, almost. Richard listened to it hungrily, drinking in every rustle, every breath of air, every whisper, coming out of the black of the forest.
"You shouldn't be here," muttered a voice in his ear.
He didn't need to look to know who it was; he also didn't need to look to know they had a dagger pressed into his back.
"Go back to bed, Alexis," he said calmly, his voice amused more than anything else. His teenage daughter groaned.
"Why do you never take me seriously?" she moaned. "I wish I'd been born a boy."
He turned to her, his smile wiped from his face. "I do take you seriously. It's only because we're so rich that I've gotten away with teaching you so much and allowing you to behave the way you do. And I am very happy that you're a girl. I might have taught you how to fence, but the thought of you fighting in wars... it chills me to my soul."
"I want to fight. I'd do better than any boy."
"And when they'd killed all the boys they'd kill you."
"Not if I killed them first."
"Look, we've had this conversation. And it's time for you to sleep – you have to go to the sewing group in the morning."
"Sewing. Wonderful..." Alexis said sarcastically. "I want to meet Kate Beckett."
"Kate Beckett. A girl at that place they laughingly call a school told me about her."
"So what if it was Ruby?"
"Nothing. Sorry. Go on, tell me about Kate Beckett."
He walked with her through their estate. He had been hunting – he liked to do it the old fashioned way, with a bow. He'd taught his daughter all the tricks – archery, dagger throwing, fencing... he'd even taught her how to fire a gun, but he'd been reluctant. He didn't like guns. He was the best shot in the county, but he still didn't like them.
He watched his daughter, her long red hair in a braid down her back. She was wearing trousers and a loose linen shirt, both cast offs of one of the stable boys. Fifteen years old. Soon she ought to be thinking about getting married, but Richard just couldn't bear the idea. She could wait. Girls were waiting longer now. He grinned at the thought of suggesting to Alexis that she go to a ball.
"...the story is she's a ruthless hunter. She catches murderers and criminals and takes them to London, to the gaol. She never kills them, but she fights them and she always wins. She can hunt anybody, too. The police get her to help them all the time, she keeps the streets safe at night."
"If she's in London, how will you meet her?"
Alexis smiled. Richard frowned. It was her 'idea' smile.
"We have to go to London," Alexis said happily. "For you to present me at court."
"But you hate London," Richard said helplessly. "You love living in the country, you love the freedom... You can live by your own rules here, you don't have to conform. It's different in London."
"I can do it. I'll have to eventually."
Richard nodded sadly. "I'm sure you'll be wonderful at it. But are you sure you want to go? No more night time hunting? No more-"
"It's only for the season, Dad. I think you don't want to go."
Richard chuckled. "You see right through me. You do realise we'll have to live with your grandmother? She's staying in the town house."
"I like Grams. She's funny."
"In small doses only!"
"Don't be cruel. She's your mother."
"And I love her dearly." He sighed. "I suppose we have to go soon?"
"The end of the week."
"It's Thursday already!"
"Fine. Monday. But we have to go, or we'll miss the start of the season."
"And once we're in London, how do you propose to find this Beckett woman?"
"Lady Beckett. And she's at court. Ruby said-"
"If this is all based on what Ruby said-" Richard began warningly but Alexis cut him off.
"Ruby said that she's sometimes there but I didn't believe it so I spoke to Johnson and he told me she is a real person and she's so fantastic her presence is often requested by the king."
Rick laughed. "He used those words?"
"Well, no. He actually said, I know of her. Waste of space if you ask me but the king sometimes asks for her."
"She must be beautiful, then," Rick said, winking. Alexis swatted him.
"The king can't be as shallow as you make him out to be."
"Oh, he is, my dear. You'll see. You'll meet him. I hope he doesn't like you."
"You don't want anyone to like me."
Richard pulled her into a hug. "Only because I want to keep you all to myself."
They had reached the house – although castle was a better description. Alexis took off her muddy boots and put them just inside the kitchen door; Rick did the same and they made their way to the larder, both after the same thing.
"Cook'll go crazy if she finds out," Alexis giggled as Richard took down an apple pie. He poured a small glass of wine for Alexis and a large one for himself. Alexis sipped politely but made a face.
"People really drink this for fun?"
Richard raised an eyebrow. "I know... You'd better get used to it, Pumpkin. If you're to be a lady in London you'll have to sip wine as though you've never tasted anything better."
"Lady Beckett doesn't drink."
"I'll believe that when I see it. And anyway, you are not Lady Beckett."
"One day..." Alexis mused. Richard laughed.
"When we're in London can I have a tutor?"
"I should think so. In what?"
Richard was surprised. "I thought you meant in pianoforte. Why do you want to learn about natural science? Wait, don't tell me. Something to do with Lady Beckett?"
Alexis smiled. "Maybe. I wouldn't mind learning pianoforte as well."
"She behaves as though I'm made of money... actually I might as well be. Of course you can learn pianoforte, Lex. And you'll need clothes as well."
Alexis sighed. "That's my least favourite part."
"We'll get some fancy London dressmakers to come to the house when we get there and put together some things you'll like. You might have to practise wearing a corset."
"Corsets are the most idiotic invention in the history of the world."
"I couldn't agree more."
"I bet Lady Beckett doesn't wear one."
"She will when she's at court."
"I'm never getting married."
It was a slight change of subject but Richard could easily follow her train of thought.
"I'm so glad you're my father. Ruby's wants to disown her."
They finished their food and went upstairs, lowering their voices unnecessarily. The servants slept either on the fourth floor or in houses elsewhere on the grounds. Richard and Alexis were effectively alone in the house.
"Will you still be going to the sewing group in the village tomorrow morning?"
Alexis sighed. "I think I have to, to keep Ruby company."
"Her father thinks it might turn her into more of a lady."
"I should tell him not to bother, then. It's done nothing for you."
Alexis laughed as they entered her room. She flopped down on the bed.
"Do you want a carriage?" her father asked.
"I think I'll ride," she said. Richard chuckled.
"You'll do no such thing. The Misses Gibson would have heart attacks!"
"I'll walk then."
"Seven miles to the village?"
"I'm a good walker. And I could take a short cut."
"You'd get covered in mud."
"So when you said did I want the carriage, what you meant was, I'm taking it?"
Richard smiled. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."
"It's alright. I'm going to have to get used to following a lot of stupid rules imposed on me by an unfair society. Might as well start now."
"We can go riding in the afternoon."
Alexis sat up and grinned. "You're not busy with a meeting or something?"
"Nothing I can't weasel my way out of. Anyway, if we're going to London there'll be plenty of people to meet there."
"We'll meet people who've read your novels and poetry. And I'll be able to read the magazine with your story in it."
"You're not reading it."
"You won't be able to stop me. In London people can do anything."
Richard laughed. "Yes, and the streets are paved with gold. I think it's time for bed."
Alexis lay back down. "I'm in bed. You're the one keeping me up."
Richard laughed again. He loved his daughter more with every second he spent with her. "Goodnight, Alexis."
"Goodnight, Father," she said, stressing the 'proper' name for the man she liked to call 'Dad'.
Alexis drooped with fatigue and boredom as the younger Miss Gibson once again highlighted the virtues of the invisible stitch. Of the seven girls there, only one was listening intently. Alexis was listening to more of Ruby's stories about Lady Beckett – who they had discussed so frequently, she was now known fondly as 'Kate'.
"It was last winter," Ruby whispered. "Kate was waiting, it was the middle of the night. She was dressed all in black..."
The other girls, and the other Miss Gibson, were soon just as enthralled by the story as Alexis.
"She always wears black for camouflage, and she doesn't wear dresses either, or corsets."
Alexis knew she was frowned on because she still favoured more childish dresses over ones which required those powerful instruments of torture.
"She was carrying her favourite sword, a light blade named 'Javi'. Maybe it's called that because it chops people in half! Anyway, she was waiting for a particularly nasty murderer who had so far killed three night watchmen and one innocent young lady on the way home from a dance. She'd set up a perfect trap – a young woman and her escort were leaving a small party alone. The streets were dark, the night was cold, there was ice in the air... Kate didn't shiver no matter how cold she was. She was silent as the grave, so as to not give away her position..."
Alexis thought it sounded like something from one of her father's less respected stories, except a hundred times better because it was real. She hoped more than anything that Lady Beckett was real too. Maybe she wanted an apprentice?
"If she does, I'm sure you'd be her first choice," her father said when she told him on their riding trip that afternoon.
"Would you let me?"
Richard thought about it. There wasn't much he denied his daughter. She was intelligent, sensible, and far more inclined to do the right thing than he was. Except when it came to following 'stupid' rules of society. Then again, he had great respect for her stance. He thought women were treated very unfairly. Alexis was only educated because she was the daughter of Sir Richard Castle. If she'd been born into a different family... well, she would probably not have been such a free thinker – and if she had been, she would have ended up like poor Ruby, forced to live in a world she hated.
Ruby would live with her disapproving father until she married. Richard hoped for a forward thinking young man who would take a shine to the sparky young girl with a fondness for stories. He liked the girl. She had even read some of his books.
"Our house has a stupid name," Alexis said as they rode past the sign.
"Castle Manor? I know what you mean. But I couldn't change it if I wanted to. I think it's a joke, anyway."
"Either that or your ancestors were incredibly stupid."
Richard laughed. "Actually, on second thought I might have to go with stupid. We know my father was."
"He might just have been unlucky."
"He was unlucky to lose the duel. He was stupid to be in it in the first place."
"Is his reputation hard to live with?"
Richard thought about it. "It would have been harder if he hadn't been so rich. When I was young, a little. My mother is not exactly stable – though I'm certain she never loved him, she needed support from someone. And then when I almost doubled his wealth with the sale of my first series of novels I earned back the respect he lost. I was even knighted."
"If the king only likes pretty women, why does he like you?"
Richard grinned. "Because I know, and write about, a lot of pretty women."
Alexis laughed, but her laughter faded quickly.
"Do you miss your father?"
"He was a drunk who died before I turned five. I knew him as a shouting monster with hard hands and harder fists, who made my mother cry. I was glad when he died. It sounds awful but it's true."
"I'm sorry. I mean... I'm so lucky to have you for a father."
"I'm luckier to have you for a daughter. I just wish you could have had a mother."
"I don't," Alexis said. "I mean, sometimes I want one. But I have you. You're better. And a mother would probably have made me do far more of the things I hate doing."
Richard laughed. "Your mother might have. But she was lovely. And a laugh."
"Do you miss her?"
"Yes. Very much. But... It probably wouldn't have worked. We were both very young and naïve, when we got married it was mostly because..." he trailed off, realising this was not an appropriate topic. Alexis smiled knowingly. Richard laughed.
"Has Ruby been explaining some other things to you?"
"Actually I asked Johnson about it when I was eight and the horse was having a foal. But I don't really understand."
"You will. But this is where we end the subject."
"I have to learn how to dance!" Alexis said suddenly. They were almost at the stable. Once they were inside Richard lifted up his daughter and whirled her around; she was slight and he was strong.
"I'll teach you how to dance," he said. "We'll have to sing, though. I don't think even I can get a band at such short notice."
"It's a bit like fencing," Alexis said as she went through the steps. As with anything she tried, she had quickly taken to dancing, mastering each movement sometimes with just one attempt.
"In what way?" Richard asked her.
"You have to step around the other person, and your feet have to follow certain rules."
Richard smiled. It was a sensible connection when you thought about it.
It was Sunday afternoon; their things were all packed and the house had been thoroughly cleaned and emptied of anything they might want. Their furniture was covered with dust sheets and Alexis had suggested that the drawing room be redecorated while they were gone. Everything was ready-
-Everything but Alexis.
They sat together in their small dining room; it had a cosy fireplace and was infinitely preferable to the long, chilly dining hall that was only used for dinner parties. Alexis picked at her roast pork.
"I... Do you think I'll be able to find Lady Beckett?"
"Don't be nervous, Pumpkin. It's a good time to present you at court anyway. I've written to your grandmother; she's expecting us. When we're at court I'll talk to the king and if he knows of her, he'll tell me where you can meet her. If she's as interesting as the stories suggest, it's almost inevitable that you'll meet her. London may be large, but our circle isn't."
Alexis frowned. "It's very unfair. That some people are so rich and they're the only ones that seem to matter."
Richard patted her hand. "It is unfair. But things are changing. Revolution is coming – I'm spending a lot of money on firstly making sure that revolution is peaceful, at least in this country, and also to help those less fortunate than we are."
"If only everyone were like you," Alexis mused. Richard snorted.
"I'm not perfect. I'm rash, impulsive, flightly, selfish, and also very wealthy. Most of what I do is motivated by keeping you safe and keeping us happy."
Alexis smiled. "You're a liar."
"If everyone were the same the world would be a boring place."
"I see what you mean. Do you... Do you think they'll like me at court?"
Richard pulled his worried daughter onto his lap. "They'll love you, Alexis. It's impossible not to. I expect by Christmas you'll be fighting off hordes of young people; women who want to be your friends, and men who want to be your husband."
"I wish Ruby could come."
"We'll be back in summer. Ruby will still be here. And you can write to each other."
Alexis leaned against her father's chest. She cheered up after a few moments and once her excitement had begun to rise there was no stopping it. She jumped up, a huge grin on her face.
"I'm going to London!" she said. Richard stood up and she threw her arms around his neck. "I'm going to London with the best father in the world."
As she lay in bed that night she repeated it over and over again, not quite believing it. I'm going to London, I'm going to London, I'm going to London – and I'm going to meet Lady Beckett!
A/N: I haven't seen anything like this before, it's set in 'olden days' England. I haven't specified exactly when because it's not at a 'real' time – I'm not going to make it too historical and use the real king etc. I really hope you liked it because it was a lot of fun to write. Thank you very much for reading and please review! If I get lots straight away I might update again tonight! Much love, Z xxx