Chapter 4: Where Monsters Tread

Chapter 4: Where Monsters Tread

A Chapter by Kayla
"

Mysteries build. As Mihaela talks to the villagers more, less and less makes sense, and there is even more to discover about the place she is going to live. Good thing she'll be going to the source.

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Chapter 4: Where Monsters Tread

The next morning Mihaela awoke to her maid gently shaking her.

“Lady Mihaela, a guide is here from the castle to lead us there. I’m here to help you get dressed.”

Mihaela rose with a yawn, stretching her arms out. “So the passes are clear, then?”

“Clear enough now, the villagers say. It is the strangest thing, though. He arove last night before they would have had a chance to.”

“That is strange. How is it he could have arrived here but we could not have gone on to the castle?” she asked as she finally rose from bed.

“I’ve no idea, miss.”

“Hmm.” Mihaela hummed thoughtfully as her maid began rifling through the drawers in search of a suitable outfit.

“What shall you be wearing today, Countess Mihaela?”

“Something sensible, nothing too overdone. The weather won’t allow for anything else.”

“Of course. Does the dark purple dress with lace frills work?”

Mihaela sighed. “That is the most simple thing mother allowed me to bring. That will have to do. I think I’ll match that with the gray hat that has the dark green veil and my gray gloves.”

“Wonderful choice, miss,” the maid told her kindly as she laid out everything her mistress would need to get properly dressed.

“Do you think the carriage ride will be too long?” Mihaela asked as she held her arms up so the maid could wrap her petticoat around her.

“I don’t believe so. I know the mansion is just a few short miles away- the ride shouldn’t take longer than the shake of a lamb’s tail.”

As the maid was helping Mihaela get dressed, another was packing the few things that had been unpacked back into the traveling bags. Both tasks were finished at the same time, and the maid who had been tugging Mihaela’s clothes on stepped back to look at her appraisingly.

“You look beautiful, if I may say so, my lady.”

“I don’t suffer from vanity, I know that isn’t possible. But I suppose etiquette dictates I say thank you nonetheless.” Mihaela sighed good-naturedly.

“Mihaela, did you hear the news?” the countess asked airily as she floated happily into the room. “We’re going to the castle, is that not grand! We will not be forced to stay in this stable for another night, I am so delighted.” the countess continued cheerfully before her daughter could reply, clasping her hands beneath her chin as if about to send a prayer up to God to thank him for their salvation.

“Mother,” Mihaela weakly protested with a blush, not wanting to speak out against her parent but embarrassed by the fact that she would so casually insult the people who had been so kind as to house them.

“What is it?” the countess asked inquisitively, as always not at all aware of what was going on in her daughter’s head.

“Nothing at all.” Mihaela mumbled as she turned her head away, eyes downcast.

The maid coughed awkwardly as she stepped back, done with the minute adjustments she had been making.

“My lady, you are ready,” she told Mihaela with a final curtsy.

“Wonderful, and all of her things are packed away?” the countess chimed in gleefully.

“Indeed, my lady.”

“Then we shall depart at once.”

A maid walking by carrying a large travel trunk stopped and popped her head into the room. “I’m afraid the count is still indisposed, my lady, and refuses to be awoken by anybody.”

“What?” the countess gasped. “He would be so rude as to make the man sent to get us wait? Not to mention, force us stay in this- this hole even longer? Well, we shall see about that.” the countess declared sternly before grasping her skirts and gliding off, as quickly as she deemed appropriate for a lady.

“I’ve a feeling this will not be good.” Mihaela muttered to the maid that stood beside her.

“No, my lady, I imagine not.” the maid replied as she suppressed a laugh.

“Well, I suppose you might as well begin carrying stuff down to the carriage. She will only be further peaked if she finds that my father is awake and ready to go but the carriage is not.”

The maid dipped into a final curtsy, “My Lady,” before picking up a heavy suitcase and setting off.

Mihaela looked about the room that was somehow so full of life a final time, and she felt a feeling of dread build inside her. It was not that she was coming to believe the tales she had been told the night before, it was simply that there was something very strange about the village, and she could only imagine the cause was the presiding lord. Whatever awaited the counts at the castle could not be good, as such. She grasped the cross that hung about her neck firmly, telling herself that it would be alright. Nothing bad could happen to her. The lord would only be human no matter the woman’s talk of monsters, and Mihaela was protected by her status.

With a deep breath she prepared herself for whatever was to come, reminding herself that at all times her God would be with her. Turning, she left the room and began to head downstairs to meet the guide that would be taking her to the dreaded mansion. Down the hall through an open door she could see her father sprawled on a bed with blackened wood and a yellow cover, his arms thrown over his head and his hands clasped firmly over his ears as the countess loudly berated him with arms crossed and chin held loftily up, eyes half hooded, giving him what Mihaela had always thought of as the look. It was a look that had given even powerful Dukes, socially inferior only to Kings, pause. Up the stairs marched a man Mihaela had yet to see, and judging by his self-important air she could only guess that he was to be their guide. His clothes were simple- he wore a loose white shirt and a clasped vest of black and blue over it. His pants were black leather, a fact Mihaela shuddered at, considering it unbelievably tacky. Yet it seemed to fit right in with the olden motif of the village.

The man paid no mind to Mihaela as she stood looking at him, breezing down the hall to where her father rested. She crept closer to hear what was being said, as the visitor spoke softly.

“... my master summons you, and I am afraid he is not a patient man. He outranks you and will consider your belatedness an afront. You have already so rudely shown up to the village that he presides over unannounced; it is ill advised to anger one who is superior to you.”

That rattled the fat earl enough to get him up. “What did you say?” he demanded, once more in that huffy way of his as he struggled to push himself up on his hands, trying to ignore the subsequent throbbing in his head; throbbing that was a product of him getting too deep into his cups at the village bar the night before.

“What needed to be said. I have the protection of my Lord and I have been commanded to bring you directly to him as swiftly as possible. To ignore his request after so inappropriately imposing on him to the extent you have would be an egregious and unforgivable affront, so I must insist you hurry.” the man continued coolly, not at all caring about the rattled earl’s ire.

“I will not-” the earl began as he went to rise from the bed, his teeth clenched. Mihaela had never seen him so angry- he was positively seething. She had to hold back a giggle; it would not be right for her to laugh at her own father… but his complete inability to do something as simple as rise from the bed made it difficult.

“You will sit down and not make a fool of yourself. He is in every right to criticize you- we have been unbelievably rude, and it is not his words but his masters. To question them is to question the lord of these lands himself.” Mihaela’s mother inserted before the earl could continue, her contempt for her husband only thinly veiled. She spoke in a calm voice, but Mihaela knew that if proper etiquette were not so important to her mother she likely would have gripped the earl by his red ear and hauled him from the bed already, screaming into his piggish face all the while.

“Thank you, countess.” the guide acknowledged, still in a flat, monotone voice, his words conveying gratitude but his tone not yielding the slightest bit of emotion.

The earl looked back and forth between the pair, his jaw working like he was about to say something else, but he contained himself. Slowly, he rose from the bed.

“I will need a moment to change.” he told them with as much dignity as he could muster after getting put into his place by what could only be a low ranked servant and his wife.

“What you’re wearing is fine.” the guide told the earl immediately.

“I was in these last night!” the earl blustered as he puffed his chest out defensively.

“Then you should have changed out of them last night. We have no time to waste, we have already waited long enough for you, we must go now. Or are you telling me that you scorn the hospitality my Lord is offering?” at that last sentence something entered the man’s voice that was very dangerous, and Mihaela resisted the urge to step back, instead moving forward to better ensure she didn’t miss anything.

The earl, dense as he was, seemed to catch it as well. “No, no… I suppose these clothes are fine. Yes, these are actually the perfect clothes for travel. I would not wear anything else.” he said grandly as he inspected his garments with an air of happiness, as if he had been the one to choose to remain in them.

“Wonderful. Let us leave then.” the man said without any hesitation, turning on his heel and striding downstairs. He strode right towards Mihaela, not bothering to go around her even though there was plenty of room. He stopped before her and stared her down as she did the same to him. Neither moved for the other. Mihaela didn’t know how long they stood there before she bowed her head meekly and moved to the side. Simple servant, indeed. She guessed he was more important than she had originally thought. The lord himself, perhaps. That would explain how he had so much moxie, commanding her father… Mihaela felt a warm grin come over her face. She hoped he was the lord, though she could certainly understand what the townsfolk were so blustered about if he was. He reeked of trouble.

Mihaela made her way down the stairs ahead of her parents, who had been busy quietly whispering to each other as her and the guide had been having the little staring match. Though their words were hushed, there was an undeniable anger behind them. Mihaela wanted to be away from that. She was tired of them fighting, and tired of them, if she was honest with herself. There was no love lost between the earl and countess and their daughter. They had little love to give, both being cold and embittered people. Mihaela placed her hand over her heart as she wondered if she had inherited that same bitterness- if that’s why she always had to play a lamb when she was a snake.

Her hand wandered up to that familiar place as she clutched the object that always managed to enliven her with renewed strength. One true Lord, drive the sin and anger from my heart so that I may truly be a worthy subject unto you. Amen. She prayed as she walked, head bowed and eyes closed. As she held the cross tightly clenched in her hand the more than ten year old chain broke, sending the necklace falling from where it had moments ago been so securely wrapped around her neck. Mihaela gasped.

“No!” she cried as she lifted up the necklace and desperately inspected the chain.

“My Lady, is something wrong? What is it?” a concerned maid from nearby asked as she came rushing towards Mihaela, who never raised her voice in such a way.

“It’s my cross. It- it broke.” Mihaela began to cry. That cross may not have been her true link to God, for that rested in her heart, but it may as well have been. It made her feel closer to her Lord and reminded her that He was always with her. It was her most precious possession, the only one that she cherished, and it was now broken.

“Here, I’m sure we can fix it…” the maid began as she reached out towards it. Mihaela reeled back, clutching the necklace to her.

“No!” she shouted once more, this time vehemently. The maid jerked her hand back, shocked.

“I’m- I’m sorry. It’s just that I looked and there’s no way to fix it. Just- just leave it be.” Mihaela said softly as she hung her head, tears slowly drifting down her rosy cheeks like dew drops on a petal.

“As you wish, my Lady. Don’t worry- I’m sure it won’t be long until you have it replaced.” the maid tried to reassure her before silently slipping away.

“But where will God be until then?” she whispered sadly as she ran her thumb over the hung figure of Jesus. Bringing the cross to her lips, she kissed it before wrapping the chain around her wrist multiple times. Tying off the ends, she shoved the cross into her glove where it wouldn’t get damaged. Taking a deep breath, she raised her head and wiped away her tears. She was being ridiculous. God would always be with her.

She left the house and climbed into the carriage where her mother and father were already waiting for her.

“What took you so long? We were waiting for you!” her father snapped as the countess ignored her.

“I’m sorry. Something happened.” Mihaela mumbled as she looked out the window.

“Do not mumble, Mihaela. It’s unladylike.” her mother said properly before turning her gaze from the window, which she had also been looking out of, to her daughter.

“Mihaela, breathe THROUGH your handkerchief. We are not away from the poor’s miasma yet.” the countess instructed when she saw her daughter wasn’t holding the piece of cloth that had quickly become so offensive to Mihaela.

“Yes, mother.” Mihaela said in a subservient way that completely masked her annoyance before whipping out her handkerchief and bringing it to her nose delicately. She inhaled the heady scent of rose petals as she shot daggers over the tops of her fingers at her mother.

“What happened that made you late to the carriage?” her father asked crossly as he leaned towards his daughter.

“I’ve no wish to talk about it.” Mihaela replied as she turned her head away.

“Well I do. We were ready to go and you decided that you had better things to do. You’re already a disappointment- you think you could try a little harder.”

“Maybe if I weren’t your daughter and didn’t have your detestable genes I would not be such a disappointment. Unfortunately the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Mihaela told him firmly, a hint of venom in her voice, finally fed up. Her father didn’t hesitate. With a resounding whack he reached out and slapped her as hard as he could. Mihaela tasted the bitter copper of blood as it filled up her mouth.

“Well, it’s a good thing mother forced me to have out my handkerchief because of her ridiculous fear of me breathing in too much miasma. At least it will be useful for something.” Mihaela said without a tear in her eye as she wiped up the blood that trickled forth from the corner of her mouth.

“Why you insolent child, I’ve had quite enough of you!” her father roared, but Mihaela just ignored him, going back to staring disinterestedly out of the window.

“You- you-” he began sputtering as he realized she was ignoring him. Mihaela’s mother let out a sigh and turned towards him.

“Leave her be. She is clearly in a mood- I suspect it is women's issues.” she defended her daughter half-heartedly, but only to get the earl, whose voice grated on the ears like a chair dragging across a floor, to stop talking.

It wasn’t effective. The earl, distracted from his daughter, only turned towards the countess to launch his risible tirade at her.

“And there’s no respect, no respect, I say!”

Mihaela closed her eyes and let her parents bickering become background noise as she wondered how long it would take to reach the mansion. They could not arrive soon enough.

The carriage swayed onwards, the wheels creaking over the ground that was still muddy from the last melting of the snow. Every now and again the carriage would get stuck and the coachman would clamor down from his seat to pull the horses and once more get the carriage moving. It was insufferably slow progress, but inch by inch, the creaking carriage brought them closer and closer to the mansion. Mihaela thought how strange and disjointed all the noises were- the creaking of the carriage and the occasional thunk from jolting over a bump fought to drown out her parent’s softly raised voices. Off in the forest she could hear the sound of a moving body of water that seemed to add a soft touch to the distracting noises that surrounded Mihaela. Birds twittered in trees while others cawed in return, creating a beautiful chorus that did not quite work together but was interesting to hear nonetheless.

“I don’t wish to go to the castle.” Mihaela finally said, interrupting her parents.

“Whatever do you mean?” her mother asked in guarded annoyance.

“This place, it isn’t quite right. Why are we going towards the thing that will be the center of it all?” Mihaela asked with a lowered voice, leaning confidentially closer. She didn’t want the man outside to hear her.

“Don’t be daft. We came all this way and we are not turning back now.” her father told her sternly.

“It’s just-” Mihaela began pleadingly, but her father cut her off with a swish of his hand.

“No! We are unsafe in our castle, we need the safety the mountains surrounding this one provides. I will hear no more of this foolishness, I am done with this matter.” he hissed angrily, turning his face away.

Mihaela fell silent. She had figured he would say as much- he was a stubborn fool for all he pretended otherwise, like a jackass without a harness. The rest of the journey continued with stony silence and icy glares, the only sounds to greet their closed off ears coming from the outside world, where Mihaela desperately longed to be. After what seemed like an eternity the carriage began to slow down.

“Oh my, do you think we have finally arrived?” the countess asked as she craned her head in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the castle through the tiny carriage window.

“Indeed we have, Countess.” the voice of the coachman came through to them.

“It’s about time- I was beginning to fear we would never arrive!” she exclaimed, still managing to find a way to complain. Suddenly, she gasped as the mansion came into sight, her mouth hanging open in obvious shock. She made not a sound as she gazed awe-struck out the window, struck speechless by the vision that lay before her. It was a dismal day- rain clouds hung over the valley and a light drizzle was coming down. Strong winds were whipping through as if trapped within the circles of mountains, unable to get out- they had been insistently rattling the carriage since it had broken through the throng of trees. All of this sought to hide the features of the castle, but it was still no hard task to discern the sheer magnificence of the glorious structure that lay before them.

Dazzling stained glass windows, that no doubt would have shone had there been so much as a drop of sunlight to be found, decorated the walls of the first floor of the castle. Statues of cherub angels guarded the castle with tiny bows held at the ready, their chubby faces downturned towards the arriving carriage as if gracing its arrival. The light gray stone rose high, competing with the mountains for height. The edges were made of a lighter gray stone that contrasted nicely with the rest, and high up, so high that they appeared to touch the clouds and the countess had to crane her neck to see them, rose strong towers with mighty parapets, perfect for stationed guards or hidden love proposals. The front part of the castle was set low, and deeper in the rest of it came rising up to tower above everything else. It was a place that bore the graceful dignity of a typical Irish castle.

The carriage pulled to a stop as the earl and countess stared at the castle in memorization while their daughter looked blankly onwards. She was as excited to enter the castle now as she had been before.

A footman decked out in a red and gold livery outfit that was fine, if a bit old fashioned, came rushing down the castle steps to greet the earl and his family. Pulling open the black carriage door, he offered his hand to assist the countess out first. She took it without seeming to notice him.

“This is a lovely place. I say, how old is the Lord of this castle?” she asked innocently as she turned to face the man that had escorted them along the path.

Mihaela suppressed the urge to groan, biting her tongue. She knew exactly what her mother was getting on about.

“Young enough, Countess.” the man answered blandly.

“And is he married?”

“No, he has yet to take a wife.” the man replied, a queer sort of grin beginning to spread slowly across his face, like there was some inside joke the countess was not aware of.

“Well, I imagine it must get quite lonely up here, isolated as it is. Mihaela, why don’t you-”

Mihaela didn’t listen. Brushing past her mother, she grasped her skirt in her hand and began walking up the steps quickly. If her mother was never able to suggest it, she would never have to consider it. She had dodged the threat of marriage for far too long and was quite proficient at it at this point. Her body belonged to God alone, no man would own her. She would devote herself to Him, and perhaps He would see fit to forgive her her trespasses when it was her time.

“Mihaela!” her mother said as loudly as she could without truly raising her voice, not wanting to ruin her image in front of the castle servants now that she had a vision of her daughter marrying a well-off Duke in mind. No, that wouldn’t do, he had to think the absolute best of them.

It was too late to go back, though. Mihaela had reached the doors. The footman waiting beside them threw them open obligingly.

“Lady Mihaela,” he greeted her politely, dipping his head in subservience. She stepped tenderly over the threshold and entered the castle cautiously, looking about. There was nothing openly strange about it, but still…

“My Lady, if you would follow me right this way,” the butler who had been waiting for the family to arrive at the entrance said with a stately bow, gesturing his hand past him. The earl and countess came through the doorway as he was speaking. Mihaela didn’t wait, breezing past the butler as if she had been in the castle many times before and already knew the way.

“You’ll want to go to the left, Lady Mihaela.” the butler told her, and though his voice was every bit proper, underlying it was a strained note that revealed just how difficult it was for him to hide that he was peeved by her rude manners. Rudeness was something that would never do.

Mihaela turned left into a grand drawing room and finally paused in her determined march forward. If the outside of the castle represented the traditional Irish dignity that shone through in castles across the land, the inside was made of the spirit of Ireland itself- robust, yet with an impressive and majestic undertone that was striking in the most direct of ways.  With wood waxed to a keen shine and simple rugs in emerald greens and downplayed creams, it didn’t need opulent paintings and luxurious tapestries to create a lasting impression; every inch spoke of the gaelic strength that each Irish descendant was proud to carry inside of them.

As Mihaela stared in stunned amazement at the simplistic beauty of the room, her parent’s filed in peacefully behind her, for once not bickering. They were instead focusing their energies on prying more information about their intended host from the butler, who obliged them eagerly enough, but always with an answer that wasn’t quite direct enough for Mihaela’s liking. He seemed to be skirting around something. Turning to look at them, she faced the butler head on. Squaring her shoulders, she wondered how what she was about to say would be received.

“It seems as though nobody in these parts likes to give a direct answer to any queries concerning your master or his castle. It makes one very curious.”

“Is that all that brought you here, curiosity? Well, a servant could have assuaged any thoughts of grandeur you had at once. I assure you that this is a very boring place, as you must surely have noticed in the village.” the butler spoke coolly, gesturing towards a luxurious couch for the family to take a seat as he did so.

“No, what I saw was a village that was positively teeming with intrigue. The village has quite some characters, and that’s just a start.”

A low chuckle came from the shadows before the butler could respond. Mihaela whipped her head around as a man stepped forth. And there it stood- the epitome of danger





© 2017 Kayla



Author's Note

Kayla
Hi there! If you guys could tell me if this chapter was a bit boring that would be nice. It's kind of a filler since it's the start of the story, but if it evokes too much disinterest, I could try and find ways to make it more entertaining. Thanks!

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Added on November 1, 2017
Last Updated on November 4, 2017
Tags: Mystery, intrigue, suspense, visit, visitors, castle, arrival, first arrival, first meetings, escape


Author

Kayla
Kayla

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