Friday, April 2, 2010

chapter 4: written in the stars

to begin at the beginning, click here

visuals by rhoda penmarq

"i would be only too happy to bring you some tea," daisy murmured. "that is, if you promise to do your best to undertake a commission for me."
"and what might that be?" catherine answered evenly.
daisy moved closer on the bed to catherine and lowered her voice. "have you ever heard of dick turpin?"
"why of course. who hasn't heard of the famous - the legendary - highwayman?" catherine turned and faced daisy. "you know there are those who consider him merely - legendary."

daisy laughed. "what do they know?"
"be that as it may," catherine continued. "what has the real or imaginary mr turpin to do with you?"
"i would like you to take a message to him."

catherine glanced at the window, against which the wind-driven rain was continuing to beat.
"oh, don't fear, you can wait until the rain has stopped. and until aurelie has had her way with you."
"and until you have brought me some tea."
"to be sure.'
catherine narrowed her eyes. "do you know, everyone in this house has a decidedly familiar manner, from the mistress on down. i wonder at it , i really do."
daisy lay back on the bed, and began twirling a lock of her hair.

"oh, pish. there is no wickedness in this house to compare with some of the things you hear."
"such as?"
"well one does hear of houses where the servants are flogged every night, and where devil worship is decreed by the masters.'"
catherine laughed. "yes, one hears of them indeed, but does anyone ever do anything but hear of them?"
daisy seemed a little nettled by catherine's attitude.

"yes, but one can't be in every house in the three kingdoms, can one? so how can you really know? how can you know?"
"i believe things when i see them myself, that's all."
"do you believe the world will come to an end in the year 18--?"
"no, why should i believe such a thing?"
"because it's written in the stars, that's why."
catherine just laughed.

"why," said daisy, "i thought we were going to be chums, and here you are already, calling me a booby and laughing at me."
"why, can't chums call each other boobies? come, give me your message for mister turpin, or get my tea, whichever suits you."
daisy continued to pout.

"it's captain turpin, he likes to be called captain."
"oh, he does, does he? well, mister, captain, lord or king turpin, how am i supposed to meet up with this fine fellow in any case? is he going to announce himself to me as i walk down the king's highway?"
"no, of course not. if you agree to take my message you will proceed to the roaring rooster inn and ask for mistress take-your-time - she runs the place. you will give her the message and she will pass it on to the captain."
"how very mysterious."

"not so mysterious as all that. so you agree to do it?"
"why not?" catherine yawned. "now - about that tea?"

"but aren't you interested in the message?'
"oh, yes - insatiably. but all in good time."
daisy lowered her voice again. "it's about - aurelie."
catherine stifled another yawn. "oh, so aurelie is involved with the gallant captain then?"

"in her way. aurelie, as you may have surmised, does not care so very much for menfellows, but is not above using them for her own purposes."
"i see. and where exactly do you come in?"
"well, that's for you to guess, isn't it, miss?" daisy's eyes sparkled. "i think i have already guessed something about you."
"and what might that be?"
"that you are ticklish!"

daisy made a lunge at catherine, but just then the door flew open behind them.
"what is going on here?" aurelie demanded. "what are you doing here, daisy?"

"i was just making my rounds, your highness. after all, i am -"
'i know what you are." aurelie gave daisy a smack on the ear that sent her sprawling off the bed.

daisy got up off the floor without even rubbing the side of her head.
"get out, daisy. and don't come back."
"going to do your own laundry now, are you? besides, i promised miss catherine here i would bring her some tea.

she might all her strength in dealing with you, don't you think?" daisy took a pillow off the bed and used it as a shield between herself and aurelie as she walked around the bed.
aurelie took a half hearted swipe at daisy as she sidled out the door. "let me see as little of you as possible."
"i am not your slave, aurelie. i shall come and go as please, thank you." daisy threw the pillow at aurelie and ran down the hall laughing.

"do you know what i hate more than anything?" aurelie asked catherine as she tossed the pillow aside sat down on the bed beside her.
"boring people. and that girl would bore the moss off a rock. i do hope she wasn't being too tiresome to you, pet."
"i hardly had time to make her acquaintance," catherine answered carefully. "or to form a considered opinion of her qualities."
"hah! insolence without spirit, and impertinence without wit. i think that sums her qualities up nicely." aurelie began fingering a lock of catherine's hair but catherine brushed her hand away.

"please don't be quite so familiar."
"not 'quite' so familiar?"
"i have already had two people describe me to my face as your 'plaything'."
"not the most polite choice of words, to be sure."
"i did not much care for it!" catherine snapped.
"ooh, spirited! cupid, how deep your dart doth strike!" aurelie put her hand on her heart and looked at the window.
"but you will prefer my company to the wind and rain's, will you not?"
"i suppose i shall."

"good." aurelie stood up. "well, duty calls. it is growing darker. would you like me to light the lamp before i go?"
"no, thank you."
"there are matches in the drawer beneath the lamp if you want to light it." aurelie turned to go.

"oh, one other thing."
"was daisy by any chance boring you with some nonsense about captain dick turpin?"
"she did mention his name, yes."
"and then you came along, before she could warm to her theme."
"i see." aurelie sat down and gave catherine a quick kiss on the cheek, which she did not resist. "i will be back as soon as in can."

captain dick turpin reined his horse in under the eaves of the back wall of the roaring rooster inn. the back door opened immediately and mistress take-your-time started out but thought better of it on seeing how hard it was raining.

clugworth the kitchen slavey had been peeking out from behind the mistress' broad form and the mistress grabbed her by the neck and tossed her stumbling out into the rain, with the command to "find noggins, but no noise, mind you!"
turpin dismounted and waited patiently beside the horse for the stable boy to be discovered, and to arrive to lead the horse away.

when the door closed behind them and the captain had handed his dripping cloak and broad hat to clugworth, mistress take-your-time put her finger to the side of her nose and whispered,

"have a care, captain. a couple of strangers in the front room with the look of the kings men about them."
"have they been here since before the rain?" turpin answered in a mild voice. "this is no weather for kings men to be about in."
"they arrived about an hour ago. all the same, it might be best for you to stay here in the kitchen."
turpin thought for a second and shrugged. "why not, so long as the fire warms me and i get the same food and grog as i would in front." he looked out through the thick kitchen window. "although it is still day and not night. it doesn't do to be too mysterious, before night has even fallen."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

chapter 3: dragon's wing

to begin at the beginning, click here

visuals by rhoda penmarq

catherine made her way slowly and without incident down the corridor to the end of the east wing. she turned the handle of the door on the left and it opened easlly and noiselessly. the room was filled with a large four poster bed and a ladies dressing table.
the dressing table and its accoutrements looked very grand indeed for a ladies maid, but from the size of the room - and its location, in the topmost corner of the house - catherine judged it to indeed be aurelie's.

a small fireplace looked dangerously close to the four poster, and in any case catherine was not inclined to the labor of building a fire.

rain was now coming down harder and the wind was lashing it against the single small four-paned window.
catherine lay back on the side of the big bed and looked up at the canopy. it had a shadow or stain on it that seemed to take the form of a wolf.

as she did not care for wolves, she turned over on her side, and as she did so, she noticed a piece of pink paper or envelope sticking out from between the edge of the blanket and the floor. she reached over to retrieve it.

it was indeed a pink envelope, opened but with a letter still inside. the envelope was addressed in blue ink, in a very elegant handwriting, to madame pauline percival, mistress of malvern, etc. as catherine was alone, she had no hesitation in opening the enclosed letter.
it was in blue ink on cream colored paper in the same elegant handwriting. what sort of person, catherine wondered, puts cream colored paper in a pink envelope?
but this question faded from her mind as she perused the contents.

my dearest pauline -

so you are mistress of malvern at last! it would seem that your endless plotting and infinitely arcane machinations have borne finally fruit. had lucifer shown one half of your determination surely he would be master of heaven today. but , my dear, i can not forbear asking you, have you in fact found true happiness?

catherine yawned. could the wretched creature she had glimpsed in the kitchen possibly be the diabolical "pauline" referenced in the letter? and what was a letter addressed to the mistress doing on the floor of the maid's room? she let the letter slip from her hand and back on to the floor , whence she did not bother to pick it up. the pattering of the rain began to make her drowsy...

she was the wing of a green dragon flying over a castle on a mountain crag in the middle of a dark rock-strewn plain ...

the last defenses were crumbling. the four princesses - alambo, iana, alome and blue star - had gathered in the chapel in the topmost floor of the castle.

a few surly soldiers in dust spattered uniforms stood between the windows of the chapel and the scarred battlements overlooking the plain. the soldiers were laughing among themselves and glancing back at the chapel. one rawboned fellow, a little less starved looking than his companions, stepped forward and made a ribald comment that brought a blush of fury to the cheeks of madamoiselle yolange, the princesses' governess, who stood between them and the window.

"back to your post, fellow," cried mademoiselle. "and don't be spying on your betters!" the four princesses shrunk back although one, blue star, managed a half hearted glare at the miscreant.

"and would it be you, mum, to send me there?," he responded with a growling laugh. he looked up at the sky and the green dragon circling overhead. "it seems to me one spot down here is the same as another, to big bird up there as well as us. he's not asking our leave to climb the walls, is he?"
even as he spoke the green dragon was joined by another, whose purple wings and body flashed in the darkness.

"is that for you to decide?" mademoiselle demanded. she stepped out of the chapel on to the roof of the castle. "where are your officers'?"
"why i do believe they all be dead, mum."

"your grammar is as ill-gotten as your personage!" cried alambo from inside the chapel. iana grabbed her arm and tried to shush her, but the soldier was ignoring her.
"you must not have been paying attention," he went on to mademoiselle. "what with the dragons, the flaming pitch and the enemy arrows there be only festus, towser and myself left. it seems to me we done quite enough duty, ain't we, chums? last man, last arrow, all that sort of thing."
festus and towser glanced nervously at each other and up at the circling dragons.
"enough of your insolence and your unsightly grammar," the governess answered. "there are - not be - opportunities still to do your sworn duty. you can begin by getting the princesses some water."

but the soldier laughed at her. "how can grammar be unsightly, mum? i asks you, now. yes, we might risk life and limb to get the princesses their water - after we have had our fun with them, ain't that right, lads?"
mademoiselle yolange's voice trembled. "you talk of fun in the face of eternity? you have arrows left - why do you not loose them? one or two well placed missiles might still bring these monsters down."
"but there still be the devil's army down below. no, mum, the game is up. fate is not with us this day." the soldier leered and moved a step closer to her.

"i beseech you - be true to the end! be true to the end and i promise you good saint harry himself will welcome you into the gates of heaven!"
"oh you beseeches me, does yer? well, good st harry may or may not be in heaven, but i am still here on earth for a little while, and i see some tasty little morsels on my plate. and i means to have them."
the young man he had addressed as towser looked on in terrified bewilderment. in the days and nights of the siege he had developed an unspoken but pure passion for the princess alome, and had sworn in his heart to serve and protect her to the end. the sudden mutiny of sergeant iango - whom he had considered a loyal soldier and good mate - unsettled him as nothing in the siege had.

"why - why don't we get some water, sergeant?" he managed to gasp.
"water! why not your mother's tears, you squalling lamb?"
but the conversation was cut short by the green dragon, which descended suddenly and with its wing - which was catherine - swept the sergeant, towser and festus, and mademoiselle yolange all off the castle roof and screaming into the air.
the four princesses rushed out of the chapel.

catherine stood before them at the edge of the roof. they looked into her one eye.

catherine woke up. someone was knocking on the door of aurelie's room.
"come in," she called, instantly awake.
the door opened and a small person in a housemaid's uniform entered, her face concealed behind a stack of neatly folded blankets. she put them down on the bed and catherine saw a young woman who might have been her own twin, but with red hair and two eyes.

"so," the girl said. "you must be aurelie's new plaything."
it was the second time catherine had been called aurelie's plaything to her face, but she judged it politic not to box the offender's ears.
"just leave what you have to leave," she replied in what she intended as a mild voice, but which came out a little sharply.
"ooh. no need to get your fur in a ball, puss." the girl put one fist on her hip and looked past catherine out the window. she seemed in no hurry to leave.
"aurelie is letting me stay here, until the weather improves."
"yes, when england turns into india. aurelie has always used the wind and rain as her accomplices in wickedness." she lowered her voice. "i know."
'yes indeed. what is your name?" the girl sat down on the bed.

"i'm daisy. shall we be chums?"
"perhaps. will you bring me some tea?"

chapter 4: written in the stars

Friday, March 5, 2010

chapter 2: plaything of fate

to begin at the beginning, click here

visuals by rhoda penmarq

it was very quiet in the upstairs hallway. keeping her hands in the pockets of her apron, catherine scanned the little tables lining the hallway for anything that looked small enough and worth stealing.
"lost your way, miss?"
catherine looked up to see the housekeeper, mrs jones, staring down at her.

she had seen mrs jones once before, when she had been hired, and mrs jones had merely nodded when mrs jackson introduced her as a new cook's assistant. now she heard her voice for the first time.
"i know the sly searching look of a thief, miss. trust me, nothing in my household is left out for the likes of you."

"my hands were in my pockets, as you can plainly see," catherine responded.
mrs jones laughed. "ah, if i only had a penny for every time i have heard that one
from little wretches like you who were born to be hanged."
"i have no need of your driveling insults," catherine answered. "i was sent up here to find madame's maid, aurelie or amelie or some such. i will now leave the finding of her to you, madam, and as i have already been dismissed from service, i bid you good day."
mrs jones laughed again. "is that the rain i hear on the window, and the wind? i bid you good day too, miss, out on the highway." her eyes narrowed. "this way, please. i will escort you to the back door. you can wait outside it until your belongings - which i assume are negligible - are collected and brought out to you."

"fair enough. i only regret that i couldn't have associated with a better class of person - especially among the senior help - in my brief stay here at malvern."
"and i regret not having a stout switch at hand at this moment, to answer you as you deserve."
"as you have no wit but a switch to answer with, i am sure your regret is bitter indeed."
the housekeeper pointed to the stairs, "after you, miss."

"what's all this? i thought i heard my name. and what are nattering on about now, mrs jones, with your stout switches and such?"
catherine looked up to see a tall raven haired young woman who had emerged from the depths of the hallway. this must be aurelie or amelie, she thought. she wondered how the mistress, who had professed to abhor beauty in the female help, could tolerate such a creature as her own maid.
"are you amelie?" catherine asked her.
"hello, what have we here? who's this little pirate?" the dark haired young woman turned her flashing eyes on catherine.
"if you are amelie, the mistress is in the kitchen having a weeping spell."
"aurelie, the name is aurelie. you can go about your business, mrs jones, i will take over here."
so, thought catherine, the lady's maid is higher and mightier than the housekeeper here. a most useful piece of information - or would have been, if she were staying.
mrs jones melted into the gloom of the long hallway with her nose in the air. aurelie moved closer to catherine. "i think i heard there was a new kitchen maid. no one told me she was such a pretty one."

"the mistress is waiting downstairs," catherine reminded her.
"did she look as if she were dressed to go somewhere?"
"not that i noticed."
"then what is her hurry? but, come, lead the way." aurelie gestured for catherine to precede her. "tell me, how are those old dromedaries in the kitchen treating you?"
"well, however they treated me is now ancient history, as i have already been dismissed - "
" - by the mistress herself."
"ah." they were passing a large window. "and you have somewhere to go?"

catherine pointed to the window, against which the wind and rain were beating. "you can hear where i am going. " she sighed. "the housekeeper was going to take me to the back door and have my belongings brought out to me. i suppose i should now make my way there myself."
"no, no,no. listen." aurelie took catherine's arm. "go up to my room. it is the last room on the left, on the top floor of the east wing. do you think you can find it."
"i can find it."
"good. don't be afraid to ask directions, and mention me if anyone tries to give you any obstruction. they will back down quickly enough. the door will be open. make yourself comfortable."
catherine listened to the wind in the trees outside. "all right.'
"make yourself a fire if you like. i have no notion of how long milady will require me."
"thank you." catherine turned to go.
"oh, and one more thing, my pet."

"don't steal anything. either on your way, or from your new friend." with a last flashing smile, aurelie left catherine alone again.

catherine found the back staircase, which she judged safer than the main one, and made her way to the top floor. she was definitely in servants quarters, albeit nicer ones than she had ever been in before. the whole house, front and back, was strangely quiet. she wished at least one person would appear, so that she could ask if she was in the east wing.

she was in a long corridor. there was a door on the left at the end of it. but was it the east wing? or the west or the north or the northeast wing?
a door opened halfway down the dimly lit corridor. an older man with bad posture stepped out and glanced around furtively. at least he looked furtive to catherine, but when he turned and noticed her, he seemed neither surprised nor abashed. his suit was shiny and threadbare. the butler? maybe malvern was not so splendid and elegant as catherine had imagined, and she would be well rid of it.
"excuse me," catherine asked him. "is this the east wing?"
"it might be," the man answered evenly, looking past catherine down the corridor. "who would you be looking for?"
"i am looking for the room of miss amelie - aurelie, the mistress's maid."
"ah, yes, yes." the man looked catherine in the eye. "well, miss, those whose way is lit by the fires of hell will see by no other light."

"excuse me?"
"no, excuse me." the man walked around catherine and she watched him proceed to the stairs, which he descended without echo.
catherine turned and, though she had not heard a door open, found herself facing a tiny turbaned personage .
the figure came closer and catherine saw that he was a hunchback, and from the subcontinent of asia. but his age - was he child, youth, or dwarf? - she could not guess.
"you mustn't mind jack, " the imp announced. "he's really quite a saucy lad, though given to preaching when the situation seems to call for it." he fixed catherine with a twinkling eye.
catherine assumed jack was the man in the shiny suit. "that is all very well, but could you please tell me if this is the east wing?"

"i suppose i could tell you, if the fancy took me. could you tell me what you are looking for?"
"i am looking for miss aurelie's - the mistress's maid's room."
"ah - a plaything of aurelie's."
"i am nobody's plaything!"
"we are all the playthings of fate, miss," the imp replied with a smile. "you are in the west wing. the east wing is behind you. i am gunga pan, by the way. i bid you good day." and he went down the corridor and down the stairs even more quietly than jack, leavening catherine alone again. she could hear the rain on the roof above her.

chapter 3: dragon's wing