Fableweaver: Chapters 1-3 Revised

Fiction By Teal // 7/30/2011

                              Fableweaver

 
Chapter 1
 
            As day leapt from the east, dawn stroked the horizon with her rosy fingers, tinting the sky with the vivid hues of daybreak. High-piled clouds were tossed above a warm purple sea, sparkling in the sunlight and stretching to the sky’s very edge.
            Caecilia de Luchella leaned against the ship’s rail, her rain-grey eyes alert and shining. Though not perhaps beautiful, there was something about her pale face, the expressive lips half-parted, the rich dancing eyes nearly hidden by a dark fringe of lashes; the faint flush lingering upon her high cheekbones that caused a passerby to look twice before going his way. She stood like one held under a spell, her eyes fixed on the vibrant horizon. So absorbed was she in her thoughts, she did not hear the footsteps pause beside her.
            “Beautiful sunrise, isn’t it?”
            Caecilia swung about to face the young ship’s officer. He leaned indolently against the rail a few yards away from her, staring out to sea.
            She smiled and nodded. “I have in all my days never seen anything more beautiful than the sea.” There was a short silence as she with an almost inaudible sigh, inhaled the fresh sea breeze.
            “It’s the first day of the voyage. Been seasick yet?” teased the young man.
            Caecilia arched her eyebrows, her light laugh as arresting as her merry eyes. “No. But Madame—that is, my traveling companion, is below in her cabin. She complains dreadfully of seasickness, though I can’t see why. The sea is perfectly calm.”
            The young officer slouched against the rail, a knowing smile playing upon his lazy lips. “Perfectly calm the sea might be, but I should like to see you keep your balance walking along the deck without the assistance of Monsieur-the-rail.”
            With a haughty lift of her chin, the girl released the rail and took a few brisk steps down the forecastle before returning. “There! That was easily done.”
            The young man hid a grin by looking up the deck and saluting one of his comrades.
            “But perhaps it is because I have traveled oversea before,” Caecilia continued. “My father owns a great deal of merchant boats, and often, I have traveled with him. Oh, to beautiful places across the sea like Ivayle, Terra Cova…”
            “Terra Cova of the white cliffs,” murmured the young officer reverently, a dreamy expression on his face. It flitted away in an instant. He glanced towards her, his brilliant blue eyes twinkling with good-natured mischief. “Excuse the liberty, Miss, but rumor aboard has it that you go to meet your betrothed at our destination, the port town of Hanwell.”
            The girl’s grey eyes instantly cooled. “The rumors are true. Is it so very strange?”
            “No. No, it is not strange, Miss. Many a young woman has come aboard this good ship on such a journey. But on this particular voyage, one cannot help hearing whispered hints everywhere of a wealthy nobleman who awaits his bride. I must congratulate you. A fine young man, surely.” The young officer’s blue eyes were piercing, despite the merry smile that hovered on his lips. “And is it true that you have not yet met your betrothed? Really, your story sounds increasingly like the plot of a true romance. Let us hope it shall end as well as it ever does in the storybooks—‘and they all lived happily ever after...’”
            With an impulsive, almost desperate gesture, the young woman clutched at the silver locket which hung about her neck, but her stubborn chin still held that haughty lift. “I am not accustomed to such impertinence, sir.”
            The young man apologized gallantly, but his eyes twinkled.
            Caecilia made a dignified effort to regain her composure. “It is as you have said. You see, sir,” she said rather coolly, “I am betrothed to the son of Lord Wellington, whom I go to meet at Hanwell. Our marriage was arranged at my birth, my father, the Lord de Luchella, and the Lord Wellington of Shadowfell deciding that when their two eldest children were of age, they should be married to create an alliance of peace between the two realms. I have never met the eldest son of Lord Wellington, and it is he I go now to marry.”
            So saying, she turned once more towards the sea. The young officer was motionless. A few long moments passed before he seemed to shake himself out of his reverie. There was no lazy movement about him now when he leaned towards the girl. All traces of that mocking smile had vanished.
             “Forgive the liberty, Miss, but tell me, what is the young man’s name, this son of Lord Wellington?”
            From where she stood, gazing out towards the horizon, Caecilia did not see his strange expression. “His name is Lionel.”
            The sailor straightened abruptly, and his bronzed face grew taut.
            Caecilia let the locket slide carelessly from her fingers on its silver chain. “Sir, I must go. I thought I heard the breakfast bell a moment ago, and I don’t believe even seasickness could prevent my dear Madame from missing a meal.” She glanced up at him and spoke quietly. “I fear I was bad-tempered with you. I have never been one of much poise and charm, but please believe me when I say that I am not usually so ill-mannered. This voyage, I fear, shall be a difficult one for me. I have…much to think upon. Do forgive me.”  
            Her eyes met his, and a ghost of that merry smile flickered on the young man’s face, though his eyes were curiously grave.        
            He stood, and a grin made his taut face suddenly boyish. “Very well, miss. May I escort you below?” Caecilia gathered her skirts and took his outstretched arm, murmuring in a mock-serious conspirator’s tone, “Madame would go half distracted if she heard I visited the upper deck unchaperoned, so you must leave me when we reach the cabins. Perhaps if I enter quietly, I shall evade her notice. Here we are. Many thanks, sir.”
            The young officer bowed with a finger to his lips, and Caecilia’s own merry mouth turned up at the corners as she sank low in a curtsey. But it was strange, she thought, as she twisted her way through the narrow passageway, that a common sea man could bow with such practiced ease.
            The young officer watched her go, a frown knitting his brow, and, for the first time, his brilliant blue eyes softened. Then turning abruptly, he sauntered away with the easy grace of a cat.
 
 
Fableweaver
 
Chapter 2
 
            Just visible through thick morning mist, the sloping hills west of Hanwell were dotted with sheep. Old ewes lay quietly beneath the shade of branching oaks, while lambs frisked in the sunshine. Birdsong filled the air with a melody that was broken only by the ringing of distant town bells. The swaying grass stirred up by merry sea breezes mirrored the rolling waves of the vast ocean that could just be glimpsed from the highest hills.
            From his peaceful place in the shade, a tanned, wrinkled old shepherd surveyed his herds. His pipe sent up plumes of smoke as he puffed tranquilly, casting his eyes over his peaceful flock. A wobbly young lamb on spindly legs bounced against his knee, and the man, chuckling, set it upright. It was a lovely morning. The shepherd’s eyes rested thoughtfully for a moment on the young lambs cavorting across the path leading upwards from town. Leaning there against his staff, he was almost lulled to sleep by the busy buzzing of insects, but he yawned and stretched, his eyes never leaving the sheep.
             And then the peaceful morning was shattered. The shepherd frowned. His eyes narrowed, the wrinkled gulf between his eyebrows deepening. He cupped a hand behind his ear. That sound—what could it be? In all of his years upon the hilltops, he had never heard anything quite like it.  
            It reverberated once more, like the piercing cry of a wounded creature.  
            He flung his leather sack over his shoulder. His staff firmly in hand, he loped down the mountainside. All at once, he halted. Ahead, hidden behind a veil of wildflowers, something stirred. Very cautiously, he drew near, and his upraised staff fell from his hands.
             A young woman lay sprawled amid the grass, her face hidden beneath a cloud of black hair. Her head flew up and she started back upon hearing the shepherd’s approaching footsteps.  
            Breathing hard from his run, the old shepherd fumbled for his cap and managed a startled grin. “Mornin’, Miss. Don’t mean to disturb ye none. I b’lieve I heard ye from up on the hilltops. Are ye well?”
            She stared up at him like a cornered animal, her face drawn and terribly pale.
            “Don’t let an old man frighten ye, miss.” The shepherd faltered, seeing the haunted expression in her dark eyes. “I’d do ye no harm. I’ll go back up to me hills and mind me own business. Take care, Miss, on yer way down the mountain and back to town. It ain’t proper for a pretty young lady like yerself to come up here alone. Let me help ye up.”
            He held out his hand to her, but she sprang to her feet unaided. She was tall and thin – very thin, the shepherd noted pityingly, but startlingly beautiful. She stood there facing him for a moment, seemingly unsteady on her feet. She took a faltering step towards him, and he saw her mouth open, then close. There was almost a sort of battle going on in her eyes. And still she remained terribly silent.
            Suddenly, her eyes turned up, and her lips formed that strange, haunting cry once more before she tottered and fell in a heap upon the grass. The shepherd darted forward and took her up in his arms like one of his own helpless lambs. She was surprisingly light, the shepherd noted with growing concern. What was more, her feet were cut and calloused and bruised, as if she had been on a long journey. But a mere girl, alone? She did not even seem to carry any provisions with her. The poor shepherd stood there for a long moment, utterly perplexed. But what the child needed now was food, rest, and shelter. He set off at once down the mountainside.
            Flocks of placid sheep turned from their grazing in surprise to watch their master stumble down the sloping hills. A hare pricked up its ears, and the birds in the treetops stopped their singing to watch the curious sight.
            Even the simple old man himself could hardly know that the helpless young woman he now carried in his arms would in a week’s time explosively bring the bustling harbor town of Hanwell to a halt—indeed—that in a month, this poor, starving girl found among the wildflowers and grass would singlehandedly bring the entire aristocratic society of Shadowfell to their knees.
 
 
Fableweaver
 
                             
Chapter 3
 
            Elusive, flickering shadows played over the outstretched form slumped over the desk. The cabin was dimly lit. A small three-branched candelabra resting on the desk was the only source of light. Though sparsely furnished, the cabin was elegant and comfortable, evidently designed for upper-class passengers. Besides the smooth walnut desk, there was a bunk against one wall—occupied by a noisy sleeper—and a small table, upon which rested a pitcher, basin, and an ivory hand mirror. Bags and boxes in great profusion were piled neatly in one corner of the berth, and a shawl and lace parasol hung on a hook by the door.     
            The ship rolled, and the figure shifted in her position at the desk, murmuring restlessly as candlelight danced over the journal spread before her. A quill pen rested limply in her hand, and the ink was still wet upon the page.
            “My dear sister, though we must be parted, I shall keep you in my thoughts daily, and I have resolved that I shall write you whenever I think of you and miss your gentle smiles and our girlish, whispered conferences. Since I cannot whisper my secrets in your ear as in times past, I shall record them in my letters to you. By the end of my first year in a new home and a new land, you shall read and know every detail of my experiences, since the very day I left our beloved homeland.
            I feel despairingly lonesome when I think of you and Mother, and of our beautiful home in Silva. Perhaps I shall grow to love a new home, a new people, a man I have never met. Only time shall tell.
            I must not think upon it any longer. Let me instead tell you about my first day aboard this ship that is steadily carrying me further and further away from Silva and towards a new life.
            This morning, I rose early and went above deck to watch the sunrise. It was a beautiful sight. I only wish that you could have been with me to see it, though of course, you wouldn’t have joined me, dearest, even if you were aboard. You know how often you have chided me for my free and reckless ways. But you see, Madame was so sea-sick this morning that she could not accompany me to walk above deck. I could not bear to be below any longer, and so I went above unchaperoned whilst Madame slept.
            While I was admiring the sunrise—and this must remain strictly between ourselves, for Mother and Madame would be scandalized—but while above decks, I also conversed with a ship’s officer. He was quite friendly, if a trifle bold, and knew why I was on board—gossip spreads quickly on ships. Somehow, I have a feeling that I will be seeing more of him on this voyage, and frankly, that does not cause me any apprehension. He is the only person who has been of any interest on this ship, with the exception of Captain Griffin, who I have not had a chance to speak with yet. Surely you remember that merry old sea dog! We used to travel aboard his good ship the Unicorn very often with Father.  
            Sister, you cannot know how insufferable have been Madame’s female acquaintances aboard. Madame van Hobber has related to them in full the purpose of my expedition. Now they smile and smirk beneath their parasols, and swarm about me like Harpies, hunting for a fresh piece of gossip to chew over in happily scandalized clusters. But after finding their probing is in vain, they soon tire of my dull company and stroll off in search of another victim. It was a relief, then, to meet someone even more mysterious and secretive than myself. I do not even know the young ship officer’s name. A very strange young man…
            I have a suspicion Madame would disapprove of my acquaintance with a ship’s officer and give me one of her characteristic tongue lashings about rank and class and the deportment of young ladies, so after our conversation, he quietly escorted me back to the cabin where I read or embroidered like a proper young lady until Madame awoke. We spent the rest of the day either speaking with the other upper-class women aboard or reading in the lounge.
            I am getting dreadfully sleepy. Madame is in the lower bunk, sound asleep. Did I tell you that she makes most unladylike wheezing and puffing noises in the night? I think I shall retire.
            Please give my love to mother. How I wish I were with you both. You must promise to write often. Is Father still ill? I pray he recovers soon. If only...”
            There was but a scrawl of ink on the page, and the letter ended abruptly. Caecilia’s auburn head rested upon her outstretched arm, and the wet trails of tears still shone upon her face in the candlelight. She shifted in her sleep, and the quill pen dropped from her hand.
           
*       *       *
 
            Morning came, and faint tendrils of light crept in beneath the cabin door. Caecilia started from her sleep, sat up, and scanned the room rapidly, her rich grey eyes still cloudy with fleeting dreams. Madame van Hobber had made a complete recovery during the night. The red-cheeked, bad-tempered governess bustled about the small cabin, wisps of grey hair curling about her face. More than ever, she reminded Caecilia of a teakettle, stout and steaming.
            “I called for tea exactly ten minutes ago. How cramped this room is, one can barely stand at one’s full height. Where is that idle cabin-boy? My dear child, I’ve told you before, if you wish to have good posture, you mustn’t sleep at your desk. Always writing, writing, writing. It shall strain your eyes. I do declare, where is that tea? Come, come, I’ll help you dress. You’re looking very pale. I don’t doubt that sleeping at that desk has made you ill. Come, come, we shall be late for breakfast. Where is that tea? I’m sure I shall complain if it does not arrive within the next…”
            Caecilia ran a comb through her hair listlessly as Madame helped her dress, only half hearing her companion’s tirade. Strange dreams had haunted her all the night, and now a great weariness overcame her. She tried to push her troubling thoughts aside, but they whirled around within her, casting dark and foreboding shadows about her heart. Shadowfell was only a week’s journey away now. Only seven more days of freedom before a gilt cage shut around her forever. No longer for her the glorious sunrises and vibrant twilights… Never again would awe hold her spellbound on a starry night as she marveled at her own smallness amidst a boundless ocean and infinite sky. She set down her comb and stared blankly at her reflection.
            “My dear child, I really must go find that wretched boy, who ought to have brought our tea ages ago.” Madame swished towards the door in all of her ruffled dignity, then spun around. “I do hope you won’t venture out until I’ve returned. You’ve always been one to go frisking off among strangers, unlike your blessed sister. Who knows what sort of unsavory creatures are aboard? Good gracious, my tea! I shall complain.” The door crashed behind her.
            Sinking down into her seat at the desk, Caecilia pulled a shawl around her shoulders. Doing so, her eye fell upon her letter. How to arrange to have it sent to her sister? Surely the captain, an old friend of her father’s, would know and have it delivered for her. She had meant to go and speak to him at any rate. He was her only confidant here, and she simply must unburden her heart to someone. So many doubts… growing more numerous every second, weighing her down… The air in the cabin was stifling, and she struggled to her feet. Yes, she must go and consult the captain.
            She went towards the door, drew the bolt, and opened it soundlessly. As she stood there, motionless, a breath of a vagrant sea breeze caressed her face, enticing her above. She looked back into the dim cabin, then in one quick motion she gathered her dress about her and disappeared into the hall.
            Passengers milled about on deck, basking in the sunshine. Caecilia leaned against the rail for a moment, soothed by the busy hum and conversation of the travelers around her. She enjoyed the precious moment of solitude, letting the playful winds toss her hair. Glancing up the deck, she spied an approaching throng of women, gossiping cronies of Madame van Hobber’s. For a moment, a roguish smile played along her mouth, but then it vanished and she strolled quickly towards the captain’s quarters, out of range of their searching eyes and wagging tongues. She knocked firmly at the cabin door, and a deep voice rang out from within.
            The door swung open, and Caecilia looked up as a great dark shadow fell across her.The captain smiled down at her, a swarthy complexioned man with a shaggy mane of greying hair and kindly eyes.
            “My dear Miss de Luchella, daughter of my good friend. Welcome! How has your journey been thus far? But forgive me, do come in!”
            Caecilia impulsively took both the Captain’s hands in hers, tears standing out in her grey eyes. It was good, so good to see a familiar and trusted face. 
            Inside the cabin, the kindly old sea captain pulled out a rickety chair and Caecilia perched precariously on its edge, her hands folded primly in her lap, struggling to regain her composure.
            “Captain Griffin, it is so good to see you, and to be sailing on your good ship once more. I have missed the sea terribly these six years, you can hardly imagine.” Caecilia adjusted the shawl about her shoulders, and then saw the letter that she still held in her hand. “I meant to ask if you could arrange to have my letters delivered to and from Silva. I’m sure you could find someone capable of delivering them to the Lord Wellington’s estate.”
            The Captain eased himself in the chair opposite her, smiling. “Of course, I have just the man to deliver them. But my, my…Six years has it been now! You were but a child when I saw you last. I seem to remember a skinny little lassie racing along the deck, more sea creature than land. Aye, she was the darling of the crew with that sharp tongue of hers, the sea breeze blowing in that tangled mop of red hair.”
            “Auburn hair, Captain,” Caecilia corrected him. Her lips turned upwards mischievously.
            “Of course, I’ll not forget that young scamp telling me that with her big grey eyes a’flashin. You always were a free, untamed thing.... Now look at you. A young woman—going off to be married—” He looked at her again, and then his face sobered. “And…still a’hankering after the sea?”
            Caecilia’s eyes met his, then glanced quickly away. She stood abruptly and began to pace the cabin, her slender hands feverishly twisting at her shawl. “Captain, everyone I meet congratulates me on the marriage my parents arranged. They all assure me of my great happiness when I am wealthy and famous, living in a great house, eating the best food... I cannot say that I am persuaded. How can one be happy in the absence of love? For I cannot be expected to love a man I do not know. Captain, it frightens me—to live the rest of one’s days with another who shares none of one’s own values is a fearful prospect. How can I know he shares my heart?
             What I love best is open sky above my head, a rolling deck beneath my feet, ocean as far as I can see. It is then that I feel most alive. One can almost touch the face of God… But what if this man cares nothing for the sea, for all my dreams, my loves, my hates, how could I find love or happiness there? My wealth and fame would be as nothing in my misery.”
            Captain Griffin rested his chin in his weather-beaten palm for a long moment before speaking.
            “Then all I’ll advise, my child, is to live in Shadowfell for some time before you consent to marry. Meet the people of a new land, learn about this young fellow Wellington. Hear of his reputation from those you respect and trust. Watch him—don’t be fooled by his manner when the sun is shining and the water is calm. You’ll fetch a true view of his heart when a real gale is a’blowing about him. For it’s in the hard times that you see all the filth and ugliness of one man’s soul come pouring out while another stands strong, only strengthened by his trials. My child, you must watch him just like you’d watch a ship ride the waves. And then at the end of that time, examine your heart.”
            “And if I find that it cannot be?”
            “Then you must break off your betrothal, for such a marriage would go against your conscience.”
            “But my father?”
            The Captain collapsed back in his chair and his eyes clouded. “Ah… That I had forgotten. My poor child, you must be very brave.”
            There was a slight sound by the door, and both the girl and the old sea captain quickly glanced up to see the young ship’s officer standing at the door. He nodded deferentially to the Captain, then bowed towards Caecilia.
            Caecilia leapt to her feet, dropping her shawl in her discomfiture. The young man could have been standing there for some time during their conversation.          
            The officer did not appear to be disconcerted at all. Rather, his eyes sparkled almost mockingly at Caecilia as he returned to her the shawl. Then he turned to Captain Griffin. “I’m sorry to disturb your most interesting conversation, Captain, Miss, but I came on behalf of a rather distraught passenger, a Madame van Hobber, who insists that her young charge has vanished into thin air. A young woman under the description of a stubborn and willful disposition, with grey eyes and auburn hair. This Madame van Hobber wishes to stop the ship and conduct a search.”  
            Caecilia started towards the door, stricken. “I’d no idea I’d been away so long. She must be frantic, the poor woman. I must…”
            The Captain held her by a restraining arm. “Just a moment, my dear. Your Madame can wait a few more minutes. Hanson, you were the very man I was looking for. This young lady is in need of someone to deliver her letters to and from Silva and her new home, the Wellington estate in Shadowfell.”
            The young officer’s face grew suddenly taut. “Sir, I’m afraid I…” 
            “Thank you, Hanson.” Captain Griffin briskly handed him the letter, then took Caecilia by the arm. “This is the young lady, you may recall, who is betrothed to the young lord Wellington. I would like you to meet Miss Caecilia de Luchella.”
            Caecilia met the sailor’s eyes, and her own danced impishly.
            Hanson smiled, but his face was grim. “Miss de Luchella and I have met.”
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~            

It's good to be back- again! I'm hoping to finish this story  before the end of the school year. We'll see. :) Now I'm off to catch up on some good Apricotpie reading. :)

Comments

And it's good to have you

And it's good to have you back! And this story, which I find very promising. Caecilia and Hanson are both charming. And your writing is, as always, lovely. I cannot wait for more!

 

Annabel | Sun, 07/31/2011

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