I really struggled this week. l jotted a few notes Friday morning about what I wanted to cover in this next installment, but still… I struggled. Normally, I get all my writing for the installment done on Saturday, but not this week.
Remember how yesterday I said there’s no plan? It’s true. I have an idea of the direction I want to take with each installment, but no set-in-stone plan. Well, that is especially true this week. Celeste and Peter, whom you meet today, took this installment and made it their own.
The ride from the grassy meadow to Summer Haven took an eternity as silence stretched awkwardly between Celeste and her new husband. Somewhere along the graveled path, a lump of doubt lodged in her throat. Am I up to the task, she wondered.
The motion of the vehicle pulled at her stomach, sending a jolt to her already frayed nerves with each bump. A sigh escaped her lips as they finally pulled to a stop in front of… a castle?
Can it be the Castle, she wondered.
“But where is the moat?” Dragon’s Fire should be near if this was truly Vovin Castle.
“Hm?” Thomas looked at her, his attention seeming to be elsewhere. After a minute, he pointed at a tunnel circling around each side of the castle, laden with roses, and said, “The moat is right there.”
The blooms, blood red with white, were easily identified: Dragon’s Blood. Cultivated by her people, the bloom had been carried from Spain when they fled.
“You replaced Dragon’s Fire with a trellis of Dragon’s Blood?”
Helping her down from the carriage, Thomas ordered a footman to see to their luggage.
“You know the bloom? It’s rare outside the Forest.”
“My people cultivated it. We brought it here.”
“Surely the trellis is not a bad thing, then.”
“Not a bad thing? The moat was part of this land. Dragon’s Fire river flowed through the lands before even my people settled here.”
“The moat still flows, have no fear.” Thomas laughed as he said this. “We only built a bridge over it, and planted the tunnels here at the entrance.”
Celeste grounded herself, sending tendrils of her aura down into the earth, deep to the roots of the rose trellis. Yes, there was the water, a faint gurgle in the back of her mind. Like the tree, this was a duty too long neglected by the Interlopers.
With a heavy heart, she walked into the cold, looming castle, closely following Thomas. Inside, her breath hitched as the immense hall overwhelmed her. Nothing in her past as a dancer and a mistress had prepared her for the stark beauty laid out before her, not even the private rooms she had shared with the Mad One.
The floor of the entrance hall gleamed beneath her feet, while a double staircase climbed to great heights, meeting above an arched door directly across from the entrance. A plump woman in severe black walked quickly down the west stairs, a scowl disfiguring her ageless face. As she drew closer, Celeste heard her mutter, “Miserable old man. Sending me to answer the door like some lowly maid. And where is that miserable butler anyway?”
“I’m right here you cheeky old cow.” An ancient man called, slipping from the arched door. Coming to a stop, he arched his back, rolling his shoulders, giving his tall frame room to stretch. Thomas stood close to a foot taller than she, and this man towered over him.
“You never mentioned having a giant serving as butler, my lord,” she said.
The joke fell into a great cavern of silence. Celeste cringed as everyone turned to watch the pink creep up her neck, flooding her cheeks. Thomas stood at her side, already ignoring her existence again.
“Lord Thomas! You’ve finally returned home.” A smile swept away the scowl as the servant embraced Celeste’s husband. “And you brought company.”
The weight of four judgmental eyes crashed down upon Celeste’s shoulders. She was being judged by the servants — her servants, and it was not a pleasant feeling.
“You brought company, Lord Thomas. Your father will not be pleased at the interruption of the household schedule,” the butler stated in a deep baritone.
“I have no doubt he is already planning the many ways in which he will punish me. No matter.” As if remembering her existence, Thomas turned to her and said, “Celeste, this is Hagenbrock, our trusted Housekeeper. And of course, her husband, Peter.”
“Will you be staying long then?”
Celeste shivered as the judgmental look turned withering, looking her up then down. “Yes. I do imagine I’ll be staying a while.”
“Follow me, then. I’ll try to find a room.”
“The one next to Thomas shall serve, I’m sure.”
With a snort, Hagenbrock turned and headed back up the stairs, this time to the east wing.
A quarter hour later, Celeste was being ushered into a cramped room containing only a single bed and a tall dresser. The housekeeper lit a candle and promptly left. Pausing at the door, she said, “Dinner is in an hour. Someone will be sent for you.”
When an hour passed with no one to show her to dinner, Celeste refused to admit defeat. Steeling her spine, she grabbed the candle and went searching for her husband. The lone candle was too dim, casting shadows so dark she could feel them slinking over her skin. With a few words, she increased the capacity of the candle light, brightening the hall so she could see.
Heels clacking on the stone floor, Celeste shivered as she walked down the hall. Austere, disapproving faces loomed over her, the shadows lending menace to the formal poses. Most doors along the corridor were locked, and the few not locked held only covered furniture. No one lived in this section of the house.
Turning a corner, she peeked into the first room she could find. Instantly, she was overwhelmed as peppermint tickled her nose. Thomas slept here, he lived here.
Just not right now.
Following the long hall, Celeste found herself turning another corner. Soon, she was back at the front of the house, this time at the top of the west wing stairs.
Where is everyone, she wondered. The loneliness engulfed her, threatened to send her reeling. Grabbing the smooth wooden banister, she sat down on the marble stairs.
Footsteps echoed across the cold marble floor, but Celeste didn’t look up.
“You didn’t come to dinner, miss.” Peter’s melodic baritone slid over her skin, caressing her. For a moment, she felt like someone cared.
“No one came for me, Peter. I’m up there in a tiny room, in an unused w – wing.” Hitching in a breath, Celeste looked up into the face of the giant seated next to her.
“You have much to accomplish here, miss. I see you.”