You sat up blearily and looked about the room. Soren was no where to be seen but the bedside table, desk, and squashy arm chair were laden with parcels, parchment, and a piping breakfast. There was a note resting against the orange juice.
Seizing a misplaced t-shirt from atop the bedpost, you slid it on over your head and reached for the tray, slitting the waxy seal with what qualified as a fingernail only in the academic sense.
I have some errands to run this morning. I should be back around midday. I’ve had some of your things sent over, some of them taken to a store room, and I’ve left the keys with Paige. I had one of the elves – lovely thing, she is – select some work robes, dress garments, quill, ink, etc… for you. You should find everything is in order and I promise I’ll be back in the afternoon.
He signed it in his untidy scrawl, quite different from the pen that appeared above. As you turned to replace the note on the table, you noticed a note scribed on the back.
Oh! I’ve taken the liberty of having my assistant pull the most relevant events in the last five years out of the stacks. I do hope you don’t mind. You don’t have to read them, of course, but I thought you would like to spend the morning catching up on the wizarding world so that we might spend the afternoon after other pursuits. avoid the terrace. One of the elves let it slip that you were here and I think my mother intends to have you kidnapped.
It took everything you had not to spit orange juice across the room as you read the note. “I think my mother intends to have you kidnapped...” you grimaced. If word had reached his mother, then your mother was sure to know.
Frantically, you groped for your watch – his watch, someone’s watch…a time piece of any kind… “Damnit! What time is it? –“ you shouted. As you did so, your hand brushed the worn wooden handle of your wand and your digital watch lifted from beneath a wardrobe and zoomed across the room, smacking you square in the side of the head.
A series of unladylike and violent curse words slid off of your tongue before you let go of your temple and took the watch in hand, checking the time.
It was 10 o’clock in the morning. Soren’s mother had a five hour head start on your parents.
Not sparing the moment to even formulate the many sardonic and pessimistic comments that would usually occur to you after being struck in the face with your own watch, you jumped out of bed, unclothed legs exposed beneath the cool cotton sheath, and began tearing open parcels in search of quill and parchment.
For most parents, the news that their only daughter had stopped running and even returned home would be a joyous occasion, no matter how they discovered it. For most parents, there would be celebration and glee – warm embraces and happiness. For your mother…You hesitated to contemplate the ramifications if she found out before you had the chance to tell her.
You found it. It took you ten minutes but you found it! Collapsing on the frigid stone floor, you dipped the quill in ink and set it to parchment. Damn! You’d succeeded in only making a large blot. Again, more carefully this time, you dipped the quill and set to the task of writing. That was better. Words were forming, albeit sloppily.
I’ve managed to create myself a bit of news which it seems incumbent upon me to share. I realize it is incredibly rude of me not to set an appointment ahead of time but would it be possible that I, and a guest, come to call this evening?
Emily Post would not have been impressed, but what could you do. Only pausing to question your spelling for a moments time and completely disregarding the atrocious grammar, sentence structure and penmanship, you squashed it hastily into an envelope and rushed into the main room. (A bit out of practice, eh, Alexis?)
Two elves waited quietly in a corner but, apparently distressed by your unkempt state and fiery expression, leapt from their posts and began stammering their willingness to assist, bowing, curtsying, and nearly tripping over one another in the most irritating of fashions.
“I need the fastest owl you’ve got.” You breathed at them, trying to catch your wind.
“Miss, pardon my saying but this letter seems important. Should you like me to deliver it personally, miss?” The male elf squeaked up at you, turning his thumbs in his sparkling clean uniform. It vaguely resembled a chopped up bed sheet but had clearly been tailored to fit and embroidered with the James family crest.
“Sure.” The elf hopped up a tiny bit. “Whichever is fastest.” You added hastily, not wanting to be unclear.
“I assure you, young miss, I will have it there in only a few moments!” His tiny voice was now practically spilling over with glee as you handed over the letter and gave him the address of your mother’s home.
“…You’ll have to go around the back and to the servant’s entrance. Oh, and please don’t tell them who you are. Simply give the note to the maid and be on your way as quick as you can. My mother doesn’t need to know where I am.”
The elf nodded formally, tucking the letter tightly inside of his “jacket” pocket and disappeared with a pop. The other elf smiled at you.
“Miss looks as though she needs a cup of tea.” She said warmly, in an almost maternal tone. Abruptly, a look of horror rushed over her face. “Not that Miss is not lovely! Miss is lovely and always has been lovely.
It is only that Miss seemed upset and a cup of tea might soothe Miss! Oh! Zimmie is sorry, Miss! Zimmie did not mean to imply that Miss did not look lovely!”
You chuckled and clutched your stomach, willing the nervous flip-flopping to cease.. “A cup of tea would be wonderful, Zimmie. I’m going to get dressed and I’ll be back out in a moment.”
As you shut the door behind you, you were certain you heard a small sigh of relief before the contents of an umbrella stand clattered to the floor and an “ouch!”
”Zimmie is fine, Miss!” wafted under the door and you laughed again, slouching into a chair.
As 12 o’clock approached, you began cleaning up the rather large mess you’d made in pursuit of parchment. There was brown paper and twine strewn from one end of the room to the other and half-unwrapped balls of robes lay haphazardly about the place. Zimmie politely offered to help and, at the moment, was stuffing paper into a dustbin.
The robes he’d had sent were amazing. Some were clearly designed for work wear. Made of the finest wools, the tones were still subdued grays, blues, and browns. In another stack of parcels, you found a wand care kit, extensive stocks of ink, parchment and quills, as well as a supply of potion ingredients from the finest apothecary in London, a cauldron made entirely of platinum, several scales, and more than few books containing useful reference points for potion making, household tasks, healing, and defense. The ink bottles, quills, and parchment were all embossed with a similar gold emblem – it seemed, at a glance, to resemble a crest but, assuming it was the designers brand, you ignored it.
Nearing the bottom of the last stack, you drew a hanger, heavy with garments, which were wrapped entirely in brown paper. Drawing it away, you revealed some of the most exquisite robes you’d laid eyes on – better, even, than the ones your mother so frequently dragged over your head. Emeralds, rubies, and deepest wine violets, they were all of a clearly fine silk. Some, it seemed, were hand beaded with tiny crystal and gem. All of them bore a similar crest in threads that seemed to be woven of liquid metal.
Zimmie smiled widely at you, holding her hand out to take the robes to the closet. “I hope Miss enjoys them. Zimmie chose them herself. Master helped, of course.” She added apprehensively. “Master chose colors and crests and insisted on the finest fabrics but Zimmie picked them from the shop and Zimmie’s mother tailored them, Miss.”
You nodded sweetly, handing her the robes, and thanked her exuberantly. She rocked from the balls of her tiny feet to the heels.
Settling down at the desk, you drew a stack of slightly yellowed newsprint toward you and began to read the headlines.
Several hours passed, your eyes straining against the aging ink.
“All caught up?” The door creaked softly open, Soren’s head peaking through. He dropped a case gently on the armchair, not losing your gaze.
You smiled gawkily. “Almost….It seems I’ve picked a fine time to come back.” You half-laughed, half-whispered.
There was a flow of awkward energy coursing through the walls. Soren’s voice was lower and quieter than normal. There was no gaiety in his eyes – the lines on his face seemed entirely expressionless. You could feel pigment creeping into your cheeks as the hair on the back of your neck rose.
It seemed cruel that, for all of your intimate and rather sordid history, having a conversation with Soren could be so difficult at times. There were so many things left for you to explain, so many questions he’d had the courtesy not to ask and so many answers you simply didn’t have.
It was almost impossible not to sense the burning desire to ask why you were there, how long you were staying, and what changed your mind. Then, you suspected that, beneath those, there were other questions. For those, you had answers, but you would have to admit them to yourself before you could answer him.
“Did you have time to get settled in then?” He asked, pensively, trying and failing to catch the eyes that had trailed away from him. “I can clear more room in the closet or expand it if you like. Is there anything you need that I didn’t have sent for?” He was speaking quickly. “Does everything fit all right or shall I call the tailor? I…”
Silence fell, the last “I” resonating off of the walls.
“Everything’s lovely.” You whispered.
For a moment, he didn’t respond, staring directly into your eyes – searching your face. He cocked his head slightly to the side and blinked.
“Oh, dear god….” There was a pause. “We’re going to see your mother, aren’t we?” He asked, disdain dripping from his voice but there seemed to be a small echo of relief trickling through.
“Yes…” You moaned.
“When?” He fired back, rapidly.
“Tonight, I think.”
“And you were trying to find a way to tell me?”
“And she knows I’m coming.”
“Well…” Whining had never been a talent of yours but the squeak seemed pertinent here. “She’s my mum. How do you tell someone that you’ve scheduled tea with Pol Pot?”
Abruptly, he broke into a rolling laugh, ending the fast-paced line of questioning. An eerie sort of warmth crept from your toes to the very top of your head. With a sort of free and relaxed strength, he threw his robes aside and crossed to the closet, lifting your hand from the chair arm and kissing it gently as he passed.
Where you were frantic, Soren was innately calm. “Is your father in or on business?” He asked, conversationally, as the carriage bumped up the drive.
He had always liked your father. To be truthful, you never understood it but a sense of control seemed to pass over him when he came to see your parents – it was as though he was aware of the game he was playing and his expertise could never have been denied. He’d weaseled from your grandfather what no other man would have been able to: a blank pass on his granddaughter.
You were staring out the carriage window. Drawn by two immense Clydesdales, the carriage was gilded in gold and painted a deep wine, almost burgundy, shade that seemed to perfectly match your robes.
A funeral march seemed to play in your head every time you passed up this drive. The immaculately manicured grounds fell out before you, the pristine grasses and precision flower gardens seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, broken only by terrariums, overgrown with delicate ivy. Your eyes seemed to fix there. To the untrained, the ivy seemed to have taken over, nature reclaiming its property, but you knew your mother, and unless a great many things had changed, she planted the ivy, hand wove it through the lattice work just as she wanted it, and expertly tended it daily to ensure that not a blade or a leaf wandered out of place. Everything seemed made of stone – unchanging and solid to a failing. None of it seemed alive.
Just like mum
, you thought as the carriage clanked to a stop. The carriage maid opened the door and let Soren out, each of them extending an arm to assist you as you stepped down.
As you looked up at the manor, you grimaced. There was nothing that had changed in the years you’d been away. The stairs, cut from a single block of marble led to the massive and imposing front doors. The Vogel crest was emblazoned upon them.
Soren’s hand squeezed yours, reminding you to move.
Apprehensively, you stepped to the door and pressed the bell.