Thirteen: A Gothic re-Telling of Red Riding Hood

To give you a flavor of my forthcoming YA novel Rosewolf, I have reprinted my short story Thirteen, originally published at Burial Day Books.

Red Riding Hood Leaves the Forest by Laura Anderson

*               *              *

THIRTEEN

A Gothic Faery Tale inspired by Little Red Riding Hood

By

Alyne de Winter

 

Thirteen girls were ready at winter’s end. All in our thirteenth year, we waited to find out which one of us was to be awarded the red cloak. Time stood still while we stood in a ring around the moon dial.  The grandmothers sang and changed our positions at every thirteenth measure until the moon rose and cast the shadow of the dial, like a long, pointing finger, upon the chosen one.

Madame Silvanus had offered our threadbare village a great deal of money for one of us. The chosen girl was to live in splendor at her great mansion in the forest, wear gowns of colored silks and sparkling jewels; attend Madame’s magnificent midnight feasts. Madame did not reveal why she wanted one of us, only that she did not care about our common origins. Rather, she was looking for a girl with mysterious qualities that only the moon would know.

So there we were on that thirteenth day, at the mercy of the moon.

We thirteen watched the lengthening shadow of the moon dial’s pointer with mounting fear, for everyone had heard the wild chants and howlings that blew through the forest in the night, had seen Madame shun the church as if it burned her. Watched her grow old and then, eerily, young again.

Thirteen girls of thirteen years stood in edgy silence around the moon dial, watching the shadows creep closer. Telepathic voices whispered our fears beneath the constant singing of the grandmothers. Shadows rippled through the budding trees, rustled the green shrubberies, padded across the clearings to glance at us, and move on. The moon looked over the wind-swept evergreens at the central stone of the dial, and cast its long bone of darkness.

A long red cloak was draped around my shoulders, the red hood pulled up and over my head.

*            *           *

Madame Silvanus sent payment to the village. It was my role to wear the red cloak and distribute the gifts of  gold, silver, clothing, and sweetmeats to every house. I was to be petted and spoiled until flowers filled the trees. Then I was to walk alone into the forest to the other side of a stream, there to await my patroness. Friends came to warn me with stories of dark huntsmen, virgin sacrifices, and barbaric rituals. Some said Madame’s mansion was guarded by wolves. I shivered in my bed every night after that, dreaming that wolves chased me over the stream, drawn by my smell and the redness of my cloak, fluid as blood spilling among the trees.

The moon beamed down, washing my windows with white brilliance. I heard them in the distance, howling down the night.

*             *            *

When the trees smelled of honey, I was sent alone into the forest. The long train of my cloak swept over last winter’s leaves with a susurrus sound along a thin and winding path trodden centuries ago by hunters. On my arm was a basket, a gift from my mother to Madame of red roses, blood pudding, and blackberry wine.

Soon the trees grew unfriendly. Dark, tapering spires and long, tangled limbs crowded the boundaries of the path. Twilight brought owls and lowering gloom. Gurgling water alerted me to the nearness of the stream before I saw it rippling like a silver ribbon through the screen of trees. On the other side, an opulent carriage, pulled by three white horses, waited. The driver wore a hat that obscured his face. A gust of wind opened the door, and I was suddenly inside, sitting against a blanket of grey-white fur. As we rattled off, darkness fell until all I could see were stars and the glittering night eyes of wolves racing along the ground. The path went steeply up between banks of lupins before we drove into the forecourt of the mansion, a looming turreted darkness against billowing moonlit clouds.

*               *               *

Madame sparkled with jewels in her high-backed chair near the fire. Her dark red hair, held in place with a furred wolf’s claw, was a like flame rising from the smooth, pale, oval of her face. She gazed at me down the length of her nose with narrowed green eyes.  I struggled to still my trembling limbs as I was seated across from her by a maid who was not much older than I, and rather gruff for such a grand household.

“Don’t be afraid,” said Madame. “I am not your enemy, but your benefactress. There are many wonders in store for you. What is your name?”

“Flora, Madame.”

“Flora, for a flower. A charming name. And flowers you shall have.”

Madame rang a little bell and the maid returned.

“Elspeth, bring us some tea and cakes. And the box with the lupins on the lid.”

“Yes, Madame,” said Elspeth. She curtseyed and hurried away.

So softly that I was not sure if I heard them or not, wolves howled. The full moon shone into the tall windows onto Madame’s face and for a brief second, perhaps due to a trick of the light, I thought she was one of them.  I must have looked quite startled because she smiled in such a way that I thought I might have seen true.

“Why do you laugh?” I blurted out.

“Because the moon in her ineffable wisdom has sent me child with rare gifts. Not everyone can see me as I am.”

I was startled again by the arrival of the tea tray. On its golden surface were china cups and saucers, a steaming silver pot, and a box filled with dried blue flowers that Madame sprinkled into our tea. Her fingers entranced me with their rings and long, sharp nails. She pushed the teacup towards me, but I did not drink.

“Who are you, Madame Silvanus?” I asked

“That you will discover soon enough.”

“What of me? What part am I to play?”

“You are my companion, and when I am gone, this house and all its grounds, shall be yours. My house is very old and has, like a small foreign country, many strange traditions that must be maintained. Traditions much misunderstood by the outside world.”

“Why me?”

“The moon chose you out of thirteen. That is good enough for me.”

I swallowed my sense of foreboding, not daring to ask the questions that quivered like a bow-string between us.

*               *              *

Elspeth showed me to a room at the top of the house. There was the bed, the carpets, a dressing table, and windows that opened out onto a wide balcony overlooking a garden. The moon had fallen low among the trees, and out of that mass of shadows stepped a tall, dark man. He raised a winding horn to his lips and blew a somber note. Suddenly a large white wolf sprang out of the shadows below my balcony, and dashed away into the forest.

   *                 *               *

I never saw Madame Silvanus during the day, but was expected to join her in the drawing room at twilight. As all the gowns in my wardrobe were red, it was in a red gown that I sat with her.  She wore a black gown blistering with diamonds and rubies.

We feasted alone every night on such foods as I had never dreamed of eating. So rich and savory, so sweet and fragrant were they, that I had all could do to not over-fill my stomach. I was fascinated watching Madame handle things gracefully with her long fingernails, never trying to conceal the fine white fur on her palms.

One night, before she handed me the wine, she pricked her finger and let fall three drops of blood into my goblet.

“Do not be afraid, Flora. That is one of our old traditions to celebrate the dark moon. Drink up. You will not taste my blood diluted in the wine, but it will form a bond of eternal friendship between us.”

I dutifully drank my wine and felt my stomach grow instantly hot. I fell into a fever that lasted for several days and when I came out of it, I learned that Madame Silvanus had died.

She lay in state on a red cushion  in a casket of glass wearing a pale, jeweled gown.  Lupins were gathered in vases around her. Tall candelabra, numerous and bright, gave the impression of a forest burning. As I marked the serenity and beauty of my late mistress’s face, the dark man stepped out from behind the curtains, pulling them away from the window and letting in the night. He was very handsome in the candlelight, magnetic, mysterious. Yet I drew back, and fled out into the yard. A pack of wolves drove me back inside straight into the arms of the huntsman.

 *                *               *

Rays from the full moon shone across the foot of my bed onto a girdle of soft, scarlet leather stamped with gold. I stood at the mirror and put it on, admiring how well it suited me. I heard the sound of the hunting horn and instantly lost all track of myself. In the morning I woke, exhausted, lying in a field of purple lupins.

It was not long before my true fate was revealed to me. I was sitting in the high-backed chair beside the fire when the huntsman appeared in the room.

“Having fallen into wickedness to acquire her great wealth, Madame Silvanus was fearful for her immortal soul. The only way to save herself was to transfer her obligations to an innocent, and thus freed, leave this world unstained. You were that innocent. You now have the dubious honor of redeeming the sins of a werewolf.”

I drew back, horrified. “She has damned me? But I’ve done nothing wrong.”

He smiled.

“You dined at Madame’s table on human flesh, and drank wine containing Madame’s blood. Of your own free will, you wore the girdle made of Madame’s skin. You, my child, were chosen by the moon to ascend to Madame’s place as Mistress of the Wolves.”

                                                         *              *              *

The moon shines down full and bright. Thirteen blasts of the hunting horn, and thirteen wolves encircle the huntsman. Our paws beat a spiral into the snow. White and shaggy, I am the strongest and most eager. I lead them through the forest, to the lanes of villages unknown to me, and do the biddings of my lover, the huntsman.

By day, human though I appear, and ever so lovely, I will let no one see me. Elspeth must go with baskets of food and coins of pure gold to the village, leaving them under the moon dial as a gift from the Lady in the Great House. My people will not starve as they did when Madam Silvanus held sway. I made no devil’s bargain willingly. I repent every day.

I no longer wear the red cloak with the red hood, for it must be saved for another. Every thirteen years I shall seek my replacement. Pray she comes in the first round! For every year that passes unredeemed, my soul shall grow red with my deeds.

 

The End

THIRTEEN was originally published at Burial Day

http://www.burialday.com

The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains by Frederick Marryat Pt. 8

The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains

by Frederick Marryat

>

“The spring now came on; the snow disappeared, and we were permitted to leave the cottage; but never would I quit for one moment my dear little sister, to whom since the death of my brother, I was more ardently attached than ever; indeed, I was afraid to leave her alone with my mother-in-law, who appeared to have a particular pleasure in ill-treating the child. My father was now employed upon his little farm, and I was able to render him some assistance.

“Marcella used to sit by us while we were at work, leaving my mother-in-law alone in the cottage. I ought to observe that, as the spring advanced, so did my mother-in-law decrease her nocturnal rambles, and that we never heard the growl of the wolf under the window after I had spoken of it to my father.

“One day, when my father and I were in the field, Marcella being with us, my mother-in-law came out, saying that she was going into the forest to collect some herbs my father wanted, and that Marcella must go to the cottage and watch the dinner. Marcella went; and my mother-in-law soon disappeared in the forest, taking a direction quite contrary to that in which the cottage stood, and leaving my father and I, as it were, between her and Marcella.

“About an hour afterwards we were startled by shrieks from the cottage —evidently the shrieks of little Marcella. ‘Marcella has burnt herself, father,’ said I, throwing down my spade. My father threw down his, and we both hastened to the cottage. Before we could gain the door, out darted a large white wolf, which fled with the utmost celerity. My father had no weapon; he rushed into the cottage, and there saw poor little Marcella expiring. Her body was dreadfully mangled, and the blood pouring from it had formed a large pool on the cottage floor. My father’s first intention had been to seize his gun and pursue; but he was checked by this horrid spectacle; he knelt down by his dying child, and burst into tears. Marcella could just look kindly on us for a few seconds, and then her eyes were closed in death.

>

>

“My father and I were still hanging over my poor sister’s body, when my mother-in-law came in. At the dreadful sight she expressed much concern; but she did not appear to recoil from the sight of blood, as most women do.

“‘Poor child!’ said she, ‘it must have been that great white wolf which passed me just now, and frightened me so. She’s quite dead, Krantz.’

“‘I know it —I know it!’ cried my father, in agony.

“I thought my father would never recover from the effects of this second tragedy; he mourned bitterly over the body of his sweet child, and for several days would not consign it to its grave, although frequently requested by my mother-in-law to do so. At last he yielded, and dug a grave for her close by that of my poor brother, and took every precaution that the wolves should not violate her remains.

“I was now really miserable, as I lay alone in the bed which I had formerly shared with my brother and sister. I could not help thinking that my mother-in-law was implicated in both their deaths, although I could not account for the manner; but I no longer felt afraid of her; my little heart was full of hatred and revenge.

“The night after my sister had been buried, as I lay awake, I perceived my mother-in-law get up and go out of the cottage. I waited some time, then dressed myself, and looked out through the door, which I half opened. The moon shone bright and I could see the spot where my brother and my sister had been buried; and what was my horror when I perceived my mother-in-law busily removing the stones from Marcella’s grave!

>

>

“She was in her white night-dress and the moon shone full upon her. She was digging with her hands, and throwing away the stones behind her with all the ferocity of a wild beast. It was some time before I could collect my senses, and decide what I should do. At last I perceived that she had arrived at the body, and raised it up to the side of the grave. I could bear it no longer, I ran to my father and awoke him.

“‘Father, father!’ cried I, ‘dress yourself, and get your gun.’

“‘What!’ cried my father, ‘the wolves are there, are they?’

“He jumped out of bed, threw on his clothes, and, in his anxiety, did not appear to perceive the absence of his wife. As soon as he was ready I opened the door; he went out, and I followed him.

“Imagine his horror, when (unprepared as he was for such a sight) he beheld, as he advanced towards the grave not a wolf, but his wife, in her night-dress, on her hands and knees, crouching by the body of my sister, and tearing off large pieces of the flesh, and devouring them with all the avidity of a wolf. She was too busy to be aware of our approach. My father dropped his gun; his hair stood on end, so did mine; he breathed heavily, and then his breath for a time stopped. I picked up the gun and put it into his hand. Suddenly he appeared as if concentrated rage had restored him to double vigor; he leveled his piece, fired, and with a loud shriek down fell the wretch whom he had fostered in his bosom.

“‘God of Heaven!’ cried my father, sinking down upon the earth in a swoon, as soon as he had discharged his gun.

>

To be continued…

Enhanced by Zemanta

The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains by Frederick Marryat Pt. 6

The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains

by Frederick Marryat

>


>

“‘Marcella, dear, did you hear?’ said my brother, in a low tone.

“‘Yes,’ replied Marcella in a whisper, ‘I heard all. Oh! brother, I cannot bear to look upon that woman —I feel so frightened.’

“My brother made no reply, and shortly afterwards we were all three fast asleep.

“When we awoke the next morning, we found that the hunter’s daughter had risen before us. I thought she looked more beautiful than ever. She came up to little Marcella and caressed her: the child burst into tears, and sobbed as if her heart would break.

“But, not to detain you with too long a story, the huntsman and his daughter were accommodated in the cottage. My father and he went out hunting daily, leaving Christina with us. She performed all the household duties; was very kind to us children; and, gradually, the dislike even of little Marcella wore away. But a great change took place in my father; he appeared to have conquered his aversion to the sex, and was most attentive to Christina. Often, after her father and we were in bed would he sit up with her, conversing in a low tone by the fire. I ought to have mentioned that my father and the huntsman Wilfred, slept in another portion of the cottage, and that the bed which he formerly occupied, and which was in the same room as ours, had been given up to the use of Christina. These visitors had been about three weeks at the cottage, when, one night, after we children had been sent to bed, a consultation was held. My father had asked Christina in marriage, and had obtained both her own consent and that of Wilfred; after this, a conversation took place, which was, as nearly as I can recollect, as follows.

>

>

“‘You may take my child, Meinheer Krantz, and my blessing with her, and I shall then leave you and seek some other habitation —it matters little where.’

“‘Why not remain here, Wilfred?’

“‘No, no, I am called elsewhere; let that suffice, and ask no more questions. You have my child.’

“‘I thank you for her, and will duly value her; but there is one difficulty.’

“‘I know what you would say; there is no priest here in this wild country: true; neither is there any law to bind; still must some ceremony pass between you, to satisfy a father. Will you consent to marry her after my fashion? if so, I will marry you directly.’

“‘I will,’ replied my father.

“‘Then take her by the hand. Now, Meinheer, swear.’

“‘I swear,’ repeated my father.

“‘By all the spirits of the Hartz mountains—’

“‘Nay, why not by Heaven?’ interrupted my father.

“‘Because it is not my humour,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘if I prefer that oath, less binding perhaps, than another, surely you will not thwart me.’

“‘Well be it so then; have your humour. Will you make me swear by that in which I do not believe?’

“‘Yet many do so, who in outward appearance are Christians,’ rejoined Wilfred; ‘say, will you be married, or shall I take my daughter away with me?’

“‘Proceed,’ replied my father, impatiently.

“‘I swear by all the spirits of the Hartz mountains, by all their power for good or for evil, that I take Christina for my wedded wife; that I will ever protect her, cherish her, and love her; that my hand shall never be raised against her to harm her.’

“My father repeated the words after Wilfred.

“‘And if I fail in this my vow, may all the vengeance of the spirits fall upon me and upon my children; may they perish by the vulture, by the wolf, or other beasts of the forest; may their flesh be torn from their limbs, and their bones blanch in the wilderness: all this I swear.’

>

>

“My father hesitated, as he repeated the last words; little Marcella could not restrain herself, and as my father repeated the last sentence, she burst into tears. This sudden interruption appeared to discompose the party, particularly my father; he spoke harshly to the child, who controlled her sobs, burying her face under the bed-clothes.

“Such was the second marriage of my father. The next morning, the hunter Wilfred mounted his horse, and rode away.

“My father resumed his bed, which was in the same room as ours; and things went on much as before the marriage, except that our new mother-in-law did not show any kindness towards us; indeed during my father’s absence, she would often beat us, particularly little Marcella, and her eyes would flash fire, as she looked eagerly upon the fair and lovely child.

“One night, my sister awoke me and my brother.

“‘What is the matter?’ said Caesar.

“‘She has gone out,’ whispered Marcella.

“‘Gone out!’

“‘Yes, gone out at the door, in her night-clothes,’ replied the child; ‘I saw her get out of bed, look at my father to see if he slept, and then she went out at the door.’

“What could induce her to leave her bed, and all undressed to go out, in such bitter wintry weather, with the snow deep on the ground was to us incomprehensible; we lay awake, and in about an hour we heard the growl of a wolf, close under the window.

>

>

“‘There is a wolf,’ said Caesar. ‘She will be torn to pieces.’

“‘Oh no!’ cried Marcella.

“In a few minutes afterwards our mother-in-law appeared; she was in her night-dress, as Marcella had stated. She let down the latch of the door, so as to make no noise, went to a pail of water, and washed her face and hands, and then slipped into the bed where my father lay.

“We all three trembled —we hardly knew why; but we resolved to watch the next night: we did so; and not only on the ensuing night, but on many others, and always at about the same hour, would our mother-in-law rise from her bed and leave the cottage; and after she was gone we invariably heard the growl of a wolf under our window, and always saw her, on her return, wash herself before she retired to bed. We observed also that she seldom sat down to meals, and that when she did she appeared to eat with dislike; but when the meat was taken down to be prepared for dinner, she would often furtively put a raw piece into her mouth.

“My brother Caesar was a courageous boy; he did not like to speak to my father until he knew more. He resolved that he would follow her out, and ascertain what she did. Marcella and I endeavoured to dissuade him from this project; but he would not be controlled; and the very next night he lay down in his clothes, and as soon as our mother-in-law had left the cottage he jumped up, took down my father’s gun, and followed her.

>

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford: A Paranormal, Regency Romance: Part IV

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford

A Paranormal Regency Romance

by Aline deWinter

Part IV

“Ah, Dark Robbie, I’m sorry you have won. I would it had been anyone but you.”

<
The voice of Lady Mary brought him back from a dream of running after someone through the crack between dawn and sunrise.

<
Something dark pulled away.  Suddenly released from he knew not what, Dark Robbie’s eyes flew open.  He beheld a hazy image of Lady Mary standing in a shaft of early sunlight in a flowing green dressing gown, her wavy hair streaming over shoulders like rays of light.

<
“Come, Dark Robbie,” she said. “You must come with me.”

<
A wash of pale sunlight illuminated Lady Mary, and as she grew clearer, a sudden chill alerted  Dark Robbie  to the fact that he was naked. He quickly sat up and wrapped his arms around his legs, glancing sheepishly up at her, hoping she hadn’t seen anything. Glancing around, he saw no trace of his clothes. A vague and frightening sensation that he had been covered with fur rose up in his mind, so that he stroked his pale, slightly hairy forearm unsure of why he wasn’t still wearing it.  A shiver ran through him.  How had he come to wake up naked on the dew spangled hillside, not remembering a thing?

<
Ah! I must have been drunk and Rusty and Oliver took the piss…But he didn’t think he’d drunk that much. He frowned down at the ground.

<
“Here,” said Lady Mary.

<

An article of clothing was draped over him. It was a loose robe of black silk with thin silver stripes.

<
Still curled up, Dark Robbie turned away from the Lady, and pulled the dressing gown on. It was soft and voluminous, insulating him from the chill. Standing up, stiff from a night on the hard earth, Dark Robbie tied the sash around his waist with a smirk, and nodded his thanks to Lady Mary. She was looking away, an  anxious, serious furrow between her wide, fair eyes.

<
“This must have belonged to your father,” Dark Robbie said as he sniffed one of the sleeves. “It smells of tobacco still.”

<
“Robbie, I must explain something to you. Please, come into the house.”

<
“Of course,” Dark Robbie said.

<
Shaking the cobwebs from his mind, he watched Lady Mary walk to the house. The hem of her robe dragged a little on the grass behind her.  The image of a white mare flashing between the shadows of the trees and moonlight danced before his mind’s eye. He stretched, and turned to gaze around at the rolling hills, sooty against the golden morning sky. Why did he have the sensation of running over those hills, and then…into them?

<
Lady Mary was waiting for him at the door to the house, looking back over her shoulder like a horse.  He hurried to meet her. She led him into a cozy morning room where tea and scones were set out on a tray beside the hearth. A low fire crackled, flames tonguing the air.

<
“So!” he said leaning back into the wing chair and gazing frankly at her. “I’ve won, have I? Now what?”

<
Lady Mary’s beautiful face had a mystified cast as she gazed at Dark Robbie. A kind of pity stole over it. She hesitated to speak, and gestured towards the tea, and then sat back in her chair with her hand over her mouth as if to prevent herself speaking.

<
It can’t be good, Dark Robbie thought, trying to remember something of the night before.

<
“Robbie, I hope you will — but — well — let me begin at the beginning and, when I am through telling you this tale, I hope you will forgive me. “

<
“Go on then.” Dark Robbie said. He sipped some tea, trying stay calm, and then broke off a bit of scone. It smelled wonderful and tasted of cardboard.

<
“ As you know, my mother died when I was born. What nobody knows is that, before me, there was baby boy who died at three months old. Family history says that my father became very angry at God, blaming Him for the death of his son. He stopped going to church, locked himself in his library, and barely spoke to anyone, even shunned my mother. I was told by an uncle who came to my father’s funeral, that he put all of his thought and energy into getting as much money as he could,  far more money than anyone else. He was obsessed with planning and building a fine, extravagant house of his own design  in a place as far away from Scottish Society as possible.  Well, he did it… as you can see., “ Lady Mary said waving her hand around unhappily.

<
“Indeed,” said Dark Robbie glowering to himself.

<
“After he achieved his dream, he and my mother reconciled. She soon fell pregnant with me, and nine months later — she was gone! I was there in her place. As a small child I was frightened of him. His eyes were black as pieces of coal and just as hard and just as brittle. As I got older, he had made his great fortune, and shifted  all of his obsessive power on me. He utterly doted on me. I wanted for nothing.  But, when I came into young womanhood, he was very jealous of my suitors. To the point of madness some would say.”

<
‘At the time when he built this strange house in this isolated spot, so close to the Faery Hills,  the word in the village was that my father was dabbling in Magic. That he made his fortune by wager with the Devil. They were not far off. Indeed, he filled hours, studying old books with strange Latin titles, full of symbols, and queer poetic images. My nanny always hovered over me as a consequence. I think she felt the need to protect me somehow. Father never discussed his feelings, but his constant brooding and anger cast a  dark sort of shadow around him, and he wore it like a cloak. As I grew old enough to understand things, he confessed to me, in a moment torment, that our great wealth had come at a very high price.”

<
Lady Mary paused and drank her tea quickly. Dark Robbie waited. Though the story was a bit hard to believe, he wasn’t surprised.

<
She looked at Dark Robbie steadily, as if daring him to doubt her. “He had bargained for all of this with the soul of my mother, and lost.”

<
“What?”

<
“My father, in his great pride, thought he could trick the Devil and win. With all his learning, he was still so foolish.”

<
“Lady Mary, the Devil has no power over us. It’s blasphemy to say so….”

<
‘Oh yes he does. The years passed.  By the time I was fifteen, I had had  a few suitors. There was one lad in particular, called Johnny, that I dearly loved, and he loved me. Of course, my father was jealous and flew into rages when he knew that Johnny was coming by to see me.  It was during one of his fits he told  me, in no uncertain terms, that the Devil wanted me next. In fact, he went on, I was meant for the Devil at birth… My mother found out and insisted on taking my place! Oh…” Lady Mary  covered her face with her hands and wept. ” After that, I wondered about my poor little brother’s death. Was it natural, or not?”

<
“Crikey! Surly, it can’t be true. He was just ranting is all. Trying to control you,” Dark Robbie said. He leaned over and pulled Lady Mary’s hands away from her face. “It’s nonsense.”

<
Lady Mary wiped the tears from her face and went on, “ No Robbie. It was the truth.  I knew it. You can imagine how I felt. I had lost my mother at birth, and in that moment, I was forced to disown my father. He went on to tell me that  the Devil was coming to claim his due…and he always wants the best, the greatest sacrifice.”

<
‘I’ll offer you as a tithe to Hell,” he shouted, “if you don’t give up that lad.”

<
“No!” Dark Robbie cried. His stomach was churning. “What kind of father is that?”

<
“A very, very bitter one, Dark Robbie.”

<
Lady Mary’s face darkened. She looked down at her hands twisting in her lap. “Indeed. I wasn’t about to stop seeing Johnny, even though I knew a man, like my father,  who would give his family  to the Devil —  consign them to Hell — would stop at nothing. While my father was raging, Johnny arrived at the door and began ringing the bells. Papa went utterly silent — I’ll never forget his eyes flashing and black as night. He just turned away and went upstairs to his rooms.”

<
‘That night was the last I saw of my beloved Johnny. All during our visit, my father had been upstairs in his room at the top of the house, working Magic. He had offered Johnny to the Devil in my place.”

<
Dark Robbie  fell back in his chair astonished.

<
Lady Mary went on, “Of course, he didn’t let me know what he had been up to in so many words. But when a fortnight passed, with no word from Johnny at all, I realized my father must have done something — something unspeakably evil. Without a word passing between us, I knew. I couldn’t even look at him after that.”

<
‘After months of silence — I didn’t speak to him at all  for the better part of a year —  he began to realize how terribly he had hurt me. Almost overnight,  he became bent and haggard with remorse. He really seemed to know how much I suffered. Even in my pain, I felt that my father could not be an entirely evil man. Some goodness must have been in him for my plight to have affected him so. Though he threatened me, he did love me. Still, I had to shock him into setting thinhs right.”

<
‘One evening, I was feeling terribly desperate with grief. I was just staring out at the hills. They were black with impending storm, and the last of the sunset shone in a line of brilliance between the horizon and the heavy dark clouds. I felt that, if I could go there, to that bright place, that somehow I could pass through it into another world. Even if it was Hell beckoning, at least I would be with Johnny. After all, I was the one the Devil really wanted, wasn’t I? Suddenly feeling quite mad, I ran out and across the meadow, and as I  began to climb the nearest hill, the rain came down in a torrent. A sheet of lightening crossed my path, and I fainted to the ground. Luckily for me, a shepherd had seen me running into the storm and brought me home.  I soon became sick with pneumonia, and it was as I lay in bed, delirious, calling for Johnny, that my father decided he had to do something, or lose me forever.”

<
Lady Mary’s eyes darkened and she stared into the distance as she spoke.

<
‘So, my father conjured the Devil again. I heard him in his study, for I had nothing to distract me and the laudenum had sharpened my wits.. I saw the smoke of incense flowing out from under the door. He was begging the Devil to  spare me — pleading with him to let me have Johnny back,  for he couldn’t bear to lose me.  Then I heard a terrible sound. It was like a black wind blowing through the trees and all of the branches creaking and  agitating the air. The Devil told my father that he had found Johnny very useful, for he was young, handsome, and strong.  He liked Johnny so much that he enchanted him into the form of a big black horse to draw his carriage out of Hell and across the earth on the nights of the dark moon.”

<
‘“Is there no way that my daughter might be able to visit the lad even if she must go to him in the Your Majesty’s house?” I heard my father shout over the wind. “ She will surely die if she cannot see Johnny Ross at least once in a while.”

<
“Visit him in Hell?” said Dark Robbie. Despite his disbelief in such things, his mind went back to the night before when he dimly recalled running after a coach and horses through the stormy woods.

<
“So the wily Devil made another pact with my father… It was a night of the full moon and I remember, as in a dream, passing into the low hills and, once inside, I was turned into a white mare. A strange-looking man, whose appearance fluttered between handsome and ugly, was approaching me with a halter.  Before I knew it, I was hitched up to a large, pale, silver coach with a black interior.  He laughed and said that for the three nights of the full moon, I would leave my father’s house and come to a door in the low hills. Once inside, in the realm of shadows, I would become a white mare and  draw his coach across the earth.  And inside the coach. looking bewildered, and ever so sad, was Johnny, whole and human and warm again, yet totally unable to reach out to me, nor I to him.”

<
Lady Mary stopped and drank some tea. Dark Robbie couldn’t speak for sheer amazement and bafflement.

<
“That was the Devil’s revenge, “ Lady Mary went on. “ He let us see each other, but only in his terms. On the night of the dark moon, I rode in the coach while Johnny, in the shape of a black horse, pulled  a black coach over the earth under the Devil’s whip. It went on like this for many months, back and forth, horse and passenger, with the turning of the moon. Between times, I was home with my father who had become a mere shadow of himself.’

<
“But, the Devil’s trickery did not stop my father — he conjured him again. He begged the Devil to let Johnny and I be together in our human forms, for the pain of the current arrangement was unhinging my mind and he was afraid I would go mad. Indeed, I felt as if I was in a constant dream, that the only time I lived was when I was a mare in Hell pulling Johnny, or playing passenger while he pulled me.’

<
“Another bargain was struck. It was like this:  we could meet in our human skins., but only between dawn and the moment the first rays of the sun touched the rim of the hills. then, in that second, Johnny must become a horse again, and go back to Hell, and I become a girl again, going home to my father. But I was still held to the Devil’s bargain, and the on the nights of the full moon,  I must turn into the white mare and pull the coach over the land.”

<
Lady Mary sighed and wrung her hands.

<
“ And in exchange for allowing us our brief moments together, the Devil demanded my father surrender his very own soul to be collected in seven years time.”

<
“So, that’s where he is, is it?” said Dark Robbie. “What’s that got to do with me and this dinner party you held last night?”

<
“Oh, it wasn’t last night, Robbie. It was thee nights ago,” said Lady Mary. Looking wistful and sad, she stood up and held her hands over the fire as if she had taken a sudden chill.

<
“What?”

<
She turned to look at Dark Robbie as she spoke, still standing before the fire.

<
“After my father died, my arrangement with Johnny and the Devil continued.”

<
Dark Robbie smirked, “So is that why you were acting the recluse? You were meeting your lover in the shape of a horse all that time, and running in and out of Hell!” A bitter laugh followed that he could not suppress. “And here we all were vying for your hand in marriage. And you’re mad! So why the invitation — what is this — prize?”

<
Lady Mary turned back again to face the fire. A tremor went through Dark Robbie. She wouldn’t look at him.

<
I must really be in the shit, he thought, his skepticism hanging by a thread.

<
“I’m getting to that…As you might imagine, without my father around to control things, the magic began to weaken. Gradually the time Johnny and I had together between dawn and sunrise got even narrower, until we spent more time together in harness than as ourselves. You see, what the Devil truly wanted was both of our souls, and I did not have my father’s magical powers, nor his bargaining skills. There was nothing else to bargain with anyway. So over the course of the year, our time together grew shorter, and shorter. Soon it was a mere half hour that we had together, and  even that was dwindling away…

<
“On the nights of the full moon, as I performed my duty to the Devil, Johnny would  be riding in the back of the coach, looking like his own dear self, the man I loved, but  utterly out of reach. It was  heartbreaking to know that everything was reverting back to how it was before, and would no doubt get even worse. The pain of longing was unbearable. When I finished pulling the coach, Johnny would become a horse again and bring me home on his back. We had our  brief time together, changing back and forth from horse to human, over and over.. as you saw… I could hear the Devil laughing at us all the while! The struggle was becoming unbearable. I had to do something or go mad.”

<
“And what did you have to do?” Dark Robbie asked narrowing his eyes.

<
Lady Mary finally turned to look at him, her face flushed, her eyelids fluttering.

<
“To — to find another sacrifice. A willing sacrifice. To bring my father back long enough to strike another bargain. To, to maintain another bargain so that Johnny and I could have our human lives again — for as long as possible.”

<
“What?” Dark Robbie rose to his feet. “If you weren’t a woman I’d strike you dead! Willing? To do what? How? Am I sacrificed to the Devil then?”

<
“Your acceptance of the invitation was a sign of willingness. Robbie — it’s only for the nights of the full moon. Not all of the time.”

<
“Nights? Nights? And what do I do on all of those nights? Was I in Hell for those last three nights — and days? What was I doing?”

<
“You became what you were at the party. A wolf.”

<
“I became a wolf…And what did that do for your daddy?”

<
“While your spirit goes forth as a wolf….he steps into your body. For the last three nights he has used your corporeal form to ground his spirit in matter and work his magic with the Devil. Because of the power of your physical body, combined with his  ability to materialize and command the spirits, he succeeded in striking a new wager.”

<
“And where was I?” Dark Robbie kept is voice low and measured, otherwise he swore he would have leaped on Lady Mary and tore her to bits. “I can’t remember a thing.”

<
“You joined the Devil’s wolf pack and followed him, storming over the earth. My father was very amused at your choice of costume. It was so suitable, as was Oliver Brodie’s. But he was glad you won since you are the stronger character and the Devil always wants the best.”

<
“Well thanks for the compliment. Now that I’m a wolf, why should I not tear out your throat?”

<
Lady Mary began to tremble, faced the fire and held her hands over it. Then she sat down again with her head in her hands.
“It’s not so bad. Twice a year, at May time and All Souls Night, you go out on the Wild Hunt, and on the rest of the full moon nights, you become a wolf and stay close to my father, as a guardian of sorts — a companion. As part of the magic, he created a glamor, so that he would look like himself, so as not to confuse you…”

<
“Considerate of him…”

<
“Yes. And I still — still have to — become the white mare, but now I  pull the Devil’s coach out of Hell at the full moon with Johnny at my side.  Then we  are free on the nights of the dark moon, and May Eve, and  All Souls’ Eve — to spend time together, human time, loving time. Afterwards, Johnny goes back to the Underworld and I go back to Crawford Priory and wait.  Now, on the dark moon,  my father pulls the coach instead of Johnny, as a pale gray dappled horse”

<
“How neat and tidy. So for all that — I mean is that all you get? Three days a month? I have been consigned to Hell so you can get those three mingy days with your lover? And what am I doing in the meantime?”

<
“You are with my father when he works his full moon magic to keep everything in balance as it were.”

<
“And what about the rest of the month?”

<
“Well, you’re free to go. Though, if you want to stay here, you are welcome. You have never been one for hard work, Dark Robbie. Living here, you can be as idle as you please.”

<
“Ha! Nice offer, Mary. You must think I’m as daft as the Devil.  I’m getting out of here, and you’re going to have to call  His Majesty, the Prince of Darkness, to make me come back.”

<
Dark Robbie stood up and pulled on the belt of the dressing gown. “Where are my clothes?”

<
“Well, we didn’t think you want to go about in your fancy dress. There are suits of my father’s in the wardrobe upstairs. But, Robbie, you can’t escape. No matter where you are, when the moon is full, you will turn into a wolf, and no matter where you are, two seasons a year, you will follow the Devil on his Ride.”

<
“But your old man won’t be able to have me.”

<
“He’ll find you wherever you are. Spirits know no place or time. You are bound together with magic. It is better if you stay with us. For out in the world, your transformation may cause alarm were anyone to see it.

<
“I want out.”

<

“I’m afraid that’s impossible. I’m sorry Dark Robbie. It is too late now.”

Ginasa

Top photo: Simon Marsden: www.simonmarsden.co.uk

End of Part IV

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford, a Paranormal Regency Romance: Part III

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford

a Paranormal Regency Romance

by Aline deWinter

Part III

Dark Robbie didn’t leave the table for the reason most people would have thought. Curiously disturbed, he went up into the wood to sit beside a well spring and watch the moon. There was a small, ivy smothered graveyard in the wood populated by Lady Mary’s ancestors, including the dark tomb of her father. On either side of the door were tall candles with fluttering flames and alabaster vases filled with lilies. He wondered if they were put there by cats. Tired from lack of food and near suffocation, Dark Robbie pulled his masque off, fell back in the grass, and dozed.

<

When he woke, the moon was bright and high, remote and inaccessible as a Byzantine Princess. Through his half opened eyes, Dark Robbie saw lavender waving in the tall grass and honeysuckle tangled ivy encircling the trees.  A stone’s throw away, a hare was nibbling clover.  Something was moving nearby, steps in the grass, and a long shadow rippled through the trees.

<

“Bah! Its just the wind,” Dark Robbie muttered to himself

<

He was lying on a bank of dizzyingly fragrant may-thorn that made him want to sneeze. When he sat up to let it go, he noticed some dark shapes moving through the trees not ten paces away.

<

“What?” he whispered to himself, stifling his sneeze, and following the shapes with his eyes. “Its that blasted horse! And Lady Mary astride…”

<

He shook his head as if to knock sense back into it, for he had the unsettling impression that her Ladyship was stark naked, but that being impossible, he wasn’t sure.

<

When they were out of sight, Dark Robbie stood up and looked around. The moon was bright as a spyglass in a sky riddled with stars.  He stepped over the grass, flattening it under his booted feet and found, lying under a bush, an elegant dress of storm colored silk.

<

“Tah!” he cried as if he had stumbled upon evidence of a crime, “She’s…she’s…I’ve got to see this!”

<

Dark Robbie hurried back to the well spring to fetch his wolf masque and put it back on, reckoning it would make it more difficult for Lady Mary to notice him. Thus attired, he stole stealthily through the glen.

<

It wasn’t long before Dark Robbie reached a circular clearing of smooth grass surrounded by trees and a rocky terrace. In the midst was Lady Mary and the horse. She was lying face down along the horse’s muscular back, her face turned away from Robbie. Her long, fine hair hung freely down her bare back, frizzy as may-blossom. The horse had his eyes closed and rocked slightly on his heels as she caressed him.

<

“Oh, my love, the time is so short. I can hardly bear it,” he heard her whisper in the horse’s ear.

<

The horse snorted softly and pawed the ground with its hoof. Then he slowly kneeled, so Lady Mary could dismount. This she did gracefully, entwining her fingers in his black mane, and sighing with pleasure as she slipped down the side of his body. When her feet hit the ground, she groaned as if in pain and clung to the horse’s mane with feverish desperation.

<

“Aw,” sighed Dark Robbie. “She’s mad.”

<

He wiped tears out of eyes that he didn’t remember shedding, and when he looked up — Lady Mary was gone! The great black charger stood with its head up sniffing the air and began kicking up its heels in a kind of dance. Suddenly a beautiful white mare appeared behind him. She was dappled like the moon and her fine mane floated on the air, and around her head, like a cloud, enhancing the longing expression in her storm colored eyes. The two horses licked and nipped each other, gamboled and played, dashing this way and that, whinnying, and kicking up their heels with such pure joy that Dark Robbie had no wonder that he cried and longed to cry again. As darkness fell, they grew still, so still that Dark Robbie held his breath, and could not move.

<

Above the round clearing the starry constellation of Pegasus appeared, following Andromeda to the edge of the world. The two horses coupled then. Dark Robbie watched them, fascinated, compelled by some primitive attraction he could not shake. They whinnied and cried, rocking back and forth, until she let out an almost human scream and they broke apart.  After that she shivered, and fell to her knees. The black stallion licked her face and soon followed her to the ground. Spent, they lay upon the dark earth, their round sides heaving with their breaths.

<

Dark Robbie thought he must have blacked out, for when he opened his eyes, the moon was floating in the ragged tops of the trees, and shining into the clearing illuminating two shadowy human forms, standing still, like spirits from the Otherworld. He shivered as if he had been dowsed with cold water, and instinctively leapt to his feet, breaking several branches and twigs. They snapped loudly.

<

“What is that, my Lord?”

<

It was the woman who spoke in the voice of Lady Mary.  It was she who stood on the arm of a slim, dark man with long, smooth hair as black as midnight. Dark Robbie had to blink several times to be sure he saw right, for around their heads, like circlets of stars, were two diadems.

<

“What are they? Faeries?” he wondered with a shiver of dread.

<

“I smell wolf,” said the dark man.

<

“Yes, I see him gazing at us through the branches of the trees. I wonder what he has seen…”

<

“What shall we do with him?” the dark man said stepping toward the thicket where Dark Robbie was with his heart pounding and sweat pouring down the back of his neck.

<

“Perhaps I shall reward him, for his shape-shifting is nearly as good as yours,” Lady Mary replied.

<

At that they both laughed, the sound of it echoing into the night.

<

Dark Robbie felt faint, sure that his reward was to be dragged into Faerie and end his days in the madhouse on earth.

<

Lady Mary wrapped her arms around the dark man’s neck, stroking his long silky mane as she gazed intently at Dark Robbie. As they fell to the ground to couple again, Dark Robbie fell into a frenzy of lust and, howling like a lunatic, spilled his seed upon the earth.

<

Spent, Dark Robbie lay very still in the thicket and watched the moon, and then the stars, fall below the hills while sky paled to silver grey. He heard them moving about, heard the whinny of horses, and sat up to peer into the clearing. The white horse was lying on the near side of the black, pale as the dawn. Then he thought it was not a horse at all, but a long, white rock, or then, patch of snow that was dissolving to a pool of bright water. Suddenly, Lady Mary stood there, looking towards the low hills on the horizon. The black horse stood up soon after. They nuzzled each other and she whispered in his ear, causing it to flicker. Then slowly he knelt down so Lady Mary could mount him, naked and shining but for her long brown hair. As the first streak of dawn spilled over the low hills, they sauntered back towards the Priory.

<

Dark Robbie followed them, no longer worried about being seen, and still wearing his wolf masque as if he had so entered into the animal, he had forgotten who he was.  In the gloaming he saw various creatures, half animal, half human, coming out of the house to greet Lady Mary and the black horse as they crossed the abandoned garden.  The creatures swarmed around their Mistress and her Charger, hurrying them back into the house as the first rays of the sun brightened the far hills and turned the dewy grass into a sheet of molten gold.

<

Dark Robbie gave chase. As he crossed the patch of grass beside the wellspring, he saw that the door to Lord Crawford’s tomb stood open, breathing forth its ghost. His ears pricking with alarm, Dark Robbie came to a heap of discarded shoes, dark with damp in the middle of the lawn, and crouched there, sniffing them, intoxicated with the rich smells of feet and old leather. As the Lady Mary disappeared into the house, he was reveling in them.

<

Then, for a brief moment. his hackles rose. A man was standing over him, wearing a long black coat, with a mane of silver hair, looking down at him. Dark Robbie felt himself cower as the man placed his hand over Dark Robbie’s head and everything went black.

Top photo: Simon Marsden: www.simonmarsden.co.uk

End of Part III

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford: A Paranormal Regency Romance: Part I

A Word from the Author:

I had a much shorter version of this story at www.themysteriousdomain.com, but I was never happy with the ending. I was trying to keep the story under 5,000 words — so it would be a genuine short story — but in the end I not only had to put more detail into it to make it better. I had to add another 5,000 words to have an ending that worked. Characters will do that to you sometimes. They know better than the author how its supposed to go.

So I deleted the story from My Mysterious Domain, rewrote it, and am offering it here in parts.

The story was inspired by this photograph of Crawford Priory, an extravagant Scottish ruin, by the excellent Simon Marsden. ( See more of is amazing photography and beyond at :  www.simonmarsden.co.uk ) It was on a calender that included the story of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford, who in her life never married, and was known to be a great lover of animals who were her friends and constant companions.

I don’t know how Lady Crawford would feel about my fictitious portrayal of her, but I think she might understand how this brooding image and her alleged haunting of the place with her animals might lead the imagination down some strange passages.

This is told in five installments. I also plan to podcast it. I hope you like this rather old style spooky story.

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford

A Paranormal Regency Romance

Part I

by Aline deWinter

Fife, Scotland

1815

It was to be Lady Mary’s first appearance for many months.

<
After the death of her father, she had retired into the gloom of her high Gothic mansion as if Society had ceased to exist. She did not call upon anyone, and no one called upon her for, though young and extremely charming, she was known not to need people and had a way of gently, but effectively, putting them off. Then, out of the blue, she sent out lilac-scented invitations for a Ball to be held at her home on May Eve. It was to be a Masquerade, set to begin in the long twilight, and continue with feasting and dancing until dawn. Lady Mary invited everyone who had known her father when he was alive, and all those who had shown an interest in her. She hinted that whoever wore the most convincing animal masque would win a secret prize! It was hoped, and surmised, that the prize was to be Lady Mary’s hand in marriage, for, now on her own and lonely, she must surely have decided that it was time to choose a husband and settle down.

<
On the evening of the Ball, the twilight was exceedingly long and luminous, a glow, like reflected firelight, throwing the low hills into dark relief at the horizon.  As the guests leapt from their coaches, they were welcomed by bright torches along the walkway and up the stairs to the open doors of the house. The ground floor windows blazed with light, while overhead, a sombre crown of pinnacles and turrets rose against the sky like the peaks of a dark forest. A flock of rooks circled around them cawing on their way to the woods.

<
Posing about in their finest, most extravagant costumes, several hopeful Suitors cut a swathe in the candle lit drawing room. Their animal heads had them looking, rather disturbingly,  like devils in fancy dress. The other ladies and gentlemen, friends of Lady Mary’s late father,  held small half-masks, attached to sticks, in their hands, ready to hold them up at the first sight of their mysterious Hostess.

<
The great clock in the hall chimed the hour. Impatient for a sight of Lady Mary newly emerging from her dark cocoon of grief,  the guests gathered in a knot at the bottom of the stairs with bated breath. Their anticipation was increased when a tribe of be-ribboned Burmese cats suddenly flowed down the stairs carrying flowers in their mouths. They were followed, from above, by a whizzing flock of multi-colored budgies that perched in the chandeliers, and at the tops of the potted orange trees, or clung upside down to the vines that were trellised along the tops of the walls. When opening their beaks to sing, they dropped round, red berries onto the heads of the Suitors. The crowd laughed uneasily.

<
“Oh, ho, ho,” chuckled Rusty MacClaren, blinking as he picked a squashed berry out of his lion’s eye. “We’re in for a fine time already…” He flicked his fingers anxiously through his mane in case some berries got stuck in it too.

<

“I’ll say,” said Oliver Brodie, swinging his stag’s head  around to look through the tall windows off to the side, his attention drawn by a commotion outside in the yard. “That’s strange. It appears Lady Mary has just returned from a ride.”

<
“It can’t be her,” said Rusty. “She’s supposed to be upstairs getting herself ready. You know how long it takes a woman to dress for a Ball.”

<
“Well, that big black charger of hers is still prancing about like he’s trying to follow her into the house. I just heard her running in at the back door,” said Oliver as a distant door slammed.

<
“Guess we’ll see, won’t we, lads,” said Dark Robbie, the wolf, shaking some berries out of the cuffs of his Restoration sleeves. “She’s a wild one.”

<
“What do you mean by that?” Mr. Symmonds’s old, soft voice floated across the room.

<
Suddenly, the room darkened as if a cloud passed over it.  The very air was charged with the mystery. The guests shuffled about, restless, and the house grew quiet as a gathering storm, waiting for thunder to roll. The guests went very still, looking at each other quizzically, and then, on meeting each others eyes, looking away again, and then around at the ceiling at the bright budgies perched above, their empty beaks sunken into their puff-feathered, pastel breasts, and at the floor where the cats lolled about, getting snagged in their ribbon streamers, and preening, oblivious to the danger of shifting human feet, as if the guests were no more than trees in the wood.

<
Finally, the of barking of dogs, and the howling of Irish wolfhounds echoed from the top of the house, announcing that Lady Mary must be leaving her lofty bedchamber.  The guests milled around so that the row of Suitors stood at the fore, while the ladies and remaining gents chose the best vantage points for a view of the stairs, and held up their masks. They glanced around at each other grimly through their eyeholes. A red fox sauntered down the stairs, brushing against the Suitors and eyeing them suspiciously before it leapt, with flash of its white-tipped tail, through the open French casement, and out into the garden.

<
Dark Robbie took a gentle swipe at it with his riding crop, hitting his neighbor on the leg instead.

<
“Imagine, a woman who keeps wild animals in the house! I’ll wager the whole top of the house is really a forest…where she sleeps naked under a canopy of trees…her hair tangled with leaves, and her little foxes licking her face…and doves settling on her shoulders and arms,” Dark Robbie said quietly as a flock of white birds flew over.

<
“Forget it Robbie. She’ll have none of you, you popinjay! Lady Mary has taste. She’ll choose me.”

<
“Yes, Oliver. That’s all she needs…a pile of debts and a sot for a father-in-law.”

<
“Now, lads, what’s the fuss…,” the soft voice of old Mr. Symmonds silted over their high words. “You know as well as anyone that this is a mere formality. Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford has never been known to accept anyone to her hand.”

<
“Yes,” retorted Rusty. “Even her dear father couldn’t marry her off to save his soul from the Devil.”

<
“I’ll wager he did sell his soul to the Devil,” said Oliver somberly, pointing around at the room. “Where else did he get the money to buy this?”

<
“I can’t wait to just see her. I heard she was running about the graveyard with her hair disheveled and her bodice undone like Ophelia in the mad scene…with her hounds circling around her like witches imps,” said Dark Robbie grinning sarcastically at the fluttering budgies. A diminutive orange fell down and hit him on the nose.

<
“Please, gentlemen. The poor girl has been tragically bereft of her only living relative…”

<
“And got a fortune out of it too…”

<
“Shhh! Here she comes.”

<
It was the three wolfhounds they saw first, their aquiline heads curving around the bannisters, their long legs getting tangled up with each other as they tried peering at those assembled below them on the Oriental carpet. Their leads were so long that they were at the middle of the stairs before Lady Mary appeared. Her light brown hair floated around her head like a frothy cloud made higher with a jeweled black plume. A dark blue-gray gown of rustling silk, embroidered with crystal beads, drifted in translucent layers about her figure like a storm. She smiled at her guests, lowering her dark eyelashes as if she had been caught having naughty thoughts. The creamy beauty of her skin was heightened by the flame of high color in her cheeks. She looked as if she were always blushing, but it wasn’t with modesty, rather with a noticeable undercurrent of seething passion.

<
“How can that woman stay alone?” Rusty growled.

<
“What makes you so sure she’s alone?” whispered Dark Robbie.

<
“Hush lads. Don’t speak of the Lady like that. She’s an outdoor girl. Healthy,” Mr. Symmonds sighed, lifting his owl’s mask up for air. “Vital.”

<
She strode between the rows of Gallants smiling like a Grecian Queen and leading a goat wearing a may crown. They were followed by a Shetland collie who kept running around everyone and barking at them as if they were sheep, more cats, some hares walking on their hind legs, and three peacocks. There was a purple brocade settee in an alcove in front of a glassed-in aviary where Lady Mary sat, gesturing with a bright yellow feathered fan to her guests that they should also be seated on the various upholstered chairs. Beside her was an urn filled with the long stemmed gladiolas and lilies that the cats had carried in, the last being gingerly but elegantly positioned among the rest by a shining mahogany Burmese. As the guests sat down, they marveled at it.

<
Rusty MacClaren proposed a toast, and they all stood up again.

<
“To Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford…welcome back to the world,” he cried raising his third glass of whisky.

<
“Cheers!”

<
Mr. Symmonds’s voice whispered above the laughter, “You look very lovely, Lady Mary. I hope we shall all see more of you now.”

<
“Agreed!” cried several of the gentlemen, lifting their glasses high.

<
Dark Robbie bowed and reached for her hand. She held it out to him. He nuzzled it with his wolf’s snout. “Lovely to have you back, my Lady.”

<
Lady Mary’s grey eyes flashed. “Thank you, Robbie,” she whispered.

<

Then, glancing over her assembled guests, she announced, “I want to thank you all for coming to my little soire in honor of Lord Crawford, my father, who passed beyond the veil just two and half years ago. I am sure he would be made very happy if he could see how many of you have come to pay your respects as well as to welcome me back into Society again. Father was a retiring character, but as you all know, his good works were many, his generous giving has mede a difference to many lives. Now, shall we all repair to the dining room? Cook has prepared a wonderful feast. It is my gift to you. Come my loves…” she said to her pets who were gathered around her skirts like orphaned children.
A deer suddenly bounded up to the tall windows and looked in, its ears pricked up, as if, being late, it feared missing out.

<
Oh, come now, Violet,” Lady Mary said opening the casement to allow the deer inside.  “You know I haven’t forgotten you. Everyone, follow me.”

<
She led her guests down a corridor, and through a series of magnificent though dusty rooms, towards the back of the house. They were accompanied by nine cats, two dogs, five hares, a goat, with a monkey in its back, a deer, three peacocks, and a colorful cacophony of budgies.

<

End of Part I

Photos by Simon Marsden : www.simonmarsden.co.uk

Rosewolf, by Aline deWinter

The  following are the first two chapters of my YA novel, Rosewolf,  about a twelve year old girl,  Rose Tamlin, who is gradually transformed into a werewolf.  Her fate is sealed when she voluntarily opens the gate to Winterslewe, a strange mansion in the Forest of Wonders where Grandma invites her  in for tea…

Rosewolf

Part One

Nether End, England 1931

The Gift

Rose had not seen herself for the last four years.
The last memory she had of her face was in August on her thirteenth birthday. She traced her loss of reflection to the previous Christmas when she woke very early in the morning to find a large box at the end of her bed tied with a wide silk ribbon. The box looked old and was made of crinkled golden paper. When she undid the ribbon and opened the box, the dark, musty smell of old roses rose up out of it like a messenger.  Underneath the delicate ivory tissue she found a coat of blood red velvet.
She lifted the coat out of its box. It was as fine as silk and very wide and much too long for her. It had a deep, soft hood lined with fur. When she put the coat on, it floated around her, swinging in a wide circle as she spun around, and falling gracefully to her sides when she stopped.
There was something in one of the pockets. Rose felt around and pulled out a heavy parchment letter with a red seal. The seal was stamped the image of a woman in a long cloak. Rose opened it carefully, for it was very old; the writing faded to pale sepia and the parchment had grown soft and crumbly.

My dearest Childe, (the letter began…)
This coat is a gift for the time of your first blood moon. It is your inheritance. As time goes on, you will learn why it has come to you. Wear it on the night  of the full moon. Keep it in a secret place. Away from the others.
I love you, all blessings Childe,
Grandma

Rose did not understand what was meant by first blood moon, but she did understand that she had to hide the coat. But until when? And from whom? Her parents, she imagined. Rose felt around in the other pocket and her hand fell upon a small book-like object. It was covered in fine black leather crossed with a silver hinge and clasp. Inside were the portraits of two women. The images were very old, for both were wearing gowns with high Elizabethan neck ruffs. Jewels glinted in their elaborate hairstyles.
One of the Ladies had high, pale hair and hard eyes. She was beautiful, but looked very haughty to Rose with her aquiline nose and long neck. In the background was a wall of white roses. The woman was pointing at something with her long, jeweled finger. The forefinger was longer than it should be. Her red lips smiled enigmatically.
The other Lady wore a red bodice with a white, jeweled ruff that framed her rosy face. Her auburn hair was coiled in an intricate style with rubies and pearls woven in. Rose’s impression of this Lady was of fiery brilliance. Golden symbols floated in the air around her. She looked wise and playful holding a branch of red roses against her face. Her hand was long-fingered like the other one’s, the one with the hard eyes.
Rose also found in the same pocket, a large black key.
She lay the key and portraits on her bed with a sigh. Outside, snow was falling, the dawn light making it sparkle like motes of iridescence swirling at the casement windows. Rose looked again at the pictures of the Ladies and shivered. What did they want? Who were they? Daddy must know. He knows about all the ghosts and things.
Rose stood gazing at her reflection in a the tall, gilt framed mirror that filled a niche in the wall above her dressing table. The sun shone in at the window, rays streaming over the horizon and scattering prisms on the walls. The cat came in, curled around her legs, looking at her in the glass. This was her cue to quickly take off the coat, wrap in back into the box, and hide it. She put in the drawer under her bed and covered it with her nightgowns for now.
When she went downstairs, the Christmas tree was gleaming brightly in the half light. Her father was sitting beside the tree, an animated expression on his face. Her mother was in the kitchen making tea. They were excited about her new presents that they still pretended were brought by fairies in the night.
She could tell they had no idea about her other present…

First Moon

The night of the full moon came after a storm. The wind had blown some branches down and piled snow drifts against the outside walls of the garden. Rose looked out on the garden from the window seat in her bedroom at the top of the tower. The white roses she had planted beside the wall refused to fade, rather they bloomed more brightly against the snow, like fairy lights.
Rose rummaged in the drawer under her bed for the box with the coat inside and pulled it out. As the musty aroma struck her face, she flushed with anticipation. She put the coat on and twirled around in front of the mirror, trying the hood that framed her face with brownish fur. She was startled to see herself looking so wild! She thought her eyes looked different somehow, greener, more slanted, brighter than before. She laughed.
Moonlight spilled into over the garden wall and through the window where it reflected in the mirror above Rose’s head. It was time to go! She pulled her boots on and drew the crimson hood over her dark hair, pushing the straggling tendrils inside and fastening the clasp at her throat. She closed her door quietly and tiptoed down the spiral stair to the landing. The house was dark and very quiet. She hoped her parents had gone to bed. The house was so large, they could be anywhere and she must not be seen in Grandma’s coat! There was a line of light beneath their closed bedroom door. She heard them talking. Holding her breath, Rose hurried down the stairs to the bottom floor, into the entryway, and pushed open the door.  A gust of cold air hit her face with the smell of snow. The ground sparkled darkly in the moonlight. Suddenly the cat dashed in, almost knocking into her. It was crying and cold, arching its back when it saw her.
“What’s wrong, Shadow? Be quiet now! Shhhh!” she admonished.
Rose felt annoyed that her mother had not let the cat in earlier. The way it was purring, rubbing her legs, and clinging to her coat, it must have been very upset and cold. She detached the little claws carefully and put the cat in the lounge. Then she let herself out quickly into the night, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Once out in the frosty air, Rose headed for the forest. Flying over the snow, she was amazed at how warm the coat was; she hardly felt the chill. In the distance, the trees stood black and stark, fretting the pale, moon stricken clouds that floated above the horizon. When she arrived at the edge of the trees, a bright path lit up over the snow, leading into the forest where she was forbidden to go.
Rose moved away and went down a known path to the lake. It shone like a milky opal in its ring of bare trees and dark shrubberies. Her sister had been lost in the Forest of Wonders long ago. Remembering that, how could she disobey her worried parents and follow the bright path that she knew Grandma meant for her take into the Forest on this night of the full moon?  She might never return again!
Rose gazed across the lake. It was frozen and riddled with snow drifts and black patches where water ran cold beneath the ice. Mist rose on the other side like veils before the moon. A dog howled far away and sad. Then everything fell silent and as still as the crystalline shimmer of ice among the trees.
Filled with a sense of strange desolation, Rose  decided to go home. The forest loomed, the shadows gathered in the depths of the trees, and the bright path shone like a magic thread. It  pulled on her somehow, seemed to wind her in.
“It can’t hurt to go into the woods. Not just this once,” she reasoned. “Grandma wouldn’t harm me. She gave me this coat, after all.”
Rose still stood very still, glancing around and listening. She heard bells ringing.  She stepped on the path.
She walked for a long time before the woods opened up to a clearing. The path ended abruptly in front of a tall, black, wrought iron gate. Beyond the bars, a large manor house loomed, high and noble looking, with carved window frames, gables and turrets. The windows were dark. The house seemed to be sleeping, dreaming like a living thing. Suddenly, everything was turned about; the house, and the wood were skewed so that Rose looked down on herself from high above, standing small and lost in her red coat the color of blood on the snow.

As she gazed at the house, the front door opened, and a tall woman emerged shrouded in fur. She had a regal bearing. She stood on the walkway for a moment looking back at Rose. Her eyes were large and luminous in her delicate, heart shaped face; her scarlet lips turned up at the corners in a smile that did not reach her eyes.  She wore her pale ivory hair piled high on her head, held in place with an elaborate tarnished comb like a claw. Rose thought she must be very old, but she did not look old. Her hair was glossy, her complexion was brilliant, clear ,and empty of lines. When she spoke her voice was sweet, but hollow, and sent shivers down Rose’s spine.
“At last you arrive at Winterslewe. welcome. I have waited a long time for you to come. Your name is Rose. Am I not mistaken, my little one?”
Rose gripped the bars of the gate. She wanted to run, but the gaze of the mysterious woman held her. Her struggle must been apparent to the Lady who smiled a trifle mockingly. Her teeth were long and yellow.
“Cat got your tongue?”?    “Y-y-yes,” Rose cleared her throat. “Did you give me that letter? And this c-c-coat, Ma’am?”
“Yes, I did. Now you have come, it is up to you whether you let yourself in, Rose. Remember the key? It fits the lock to the gate you grip so tightly. Let yourself in, Rose, for I am not allowed beyond the gate. Use the key and come inside. We shall have tea. I have already prepared it.”
Rose felt around in the coat pocket and took out the key. It was heavy and carved the same as the gate and the tall railings of the fence. The lock was huge and groaned loudly as she turned the key and opened it. The gate suddenly swung wide as if caught by a strong wind. The way forward shone brightly. Rose felt a shock go through her as she got closer to the Lady who smelled like bark and fur as if she were a wild animal from the wood. Once Rose was over the threshold, the gate clanged shut behind her of its own accord…
“Yes, Rose. Now you enter my humble home of Winterslewe. It is named so because here it is always winter. Do you know who I am Rose?” The Lady walked slowly towards the house as she spoke. She seemed to drift above the ground, so smooth was her step.
“No, I don’t. Who are you, Ma’am?” Rose felt her throat tighten as if she was afraid to know the answer.
“I am your grandmother, Lianna, Rose. Have you not heard about me?”
“The Grandma who gave me this coat?”
“Yes, Rose.”
Rose felt her skin prickle as Grandma opened the door and let her inside. She knew she should not go in, but she followed her grandmother in through the dark door anyway. Grandma seemed so kind, smiling at Rose, and bending graciously to help her find her way in the dimness of the long passageway. They passed under an arch and down a hallway that led to a formal drawing room. When Grandma pushed the door open, Rose gasped in astonishment.
The far end of the long room was taken up by an ornately carved fireplace the size of a small room. An inviting, warm fire raged in the grate. The furniture was very old and a bit tatty, the Persian carpets worn, the ceilings were lofty, and the walls! — the walls were buried under trellises of climbing white roses. They grew unchecked, twining around the windows, spreading across the ceiling, weaving round the chandelier, and sprouting shoots over the floor. Rose felt enveloped in a sweet, narcotic scent so heavy that she could hardly breathe. The cloying air, and the twilight blueness, lit only by the fire and a few flaring candles in tall, treelike stands, made her feel weak and light headed so that she longed to sit down.
Grandma motioned to Rose to sit in an wing chair that faced the fire, and she sank into it with the last of her strength. On a delicate round table in front of her, a silver tea service was placed, its shiny surface glinting with firelight.  Steam wafted from the teapot with a vapor as sweet smelling as the white roses. Grandma sat across from her pouring tea into china cups. Rose huddled deep into the chair, and the warmth of the ruby red coat. She felt drowsy, but alert. The room was hazy, seen through the vapor. Grandma looked like an image in a steamy mirror as she hand the teacup and saucer to Rose.
“Now you shall have my special tea and cakes. It is brewed from the very same flowers you see all around you, Rose. I brought them indoors as it so cold outside always. They make a wonderful tea. It is for this that I invited you here, and I want you to come every month on the full moon so we can enjoy tea together. Imagine! I have never met my own grandchild in all these years! How old are you, Rose?”
Grandma handed Rose a small cake in a porcelain plate.
Rose looked at her with wide eyes. “Twelve. Grandma? How come you never came to visit us? I am sure my dad misses you. You are Daddy’s mother aren’t you? He told me you were all witches…”
Grandma shook her head as if get cobwebs out. “Twelve! What and excellent age! An interesting time in a young girl’s life.” Grandma smiled, her eyes bright and piercing. “Wait for the first blood moon. That is the magic time. That is what I am preparing you for. Drink up! The tea will help you grow oh, so strong.”


Suddenly a laugh rang out from somewhere in the house.
Grandma rose from her chair and looked over Rose’s chair toward the drawing room door and shouted,”Isabella! Stop it now!”
Whoever it was giggled and came right behind Rose’ s chair. Rose jumped! Little fingers were creeping over the wing of the chair. Rose looked from the fingers to Grandma with alarm!
“What are you worried about Rose? It is only Isabella. Come, Isabella, meet Rose. Rose, this is my other granddaughter, Isabella.”
A little girl stood before Rose, grinning and giggling. She had pale crinkly hair that hung down to her ankles. She wore a small ivory satin gown that made her look like a doll. Rose smiled at the girl who smiled back.  Her teeth were long and sharp looking, like Grandma’s.
“Would you like some tea, Isabella?” Grandma asked pouring her some as she settled into a brocade chair.
Isabella sipped her tea with a stiff smile.
“Why is she here, Lady Lianna?”
“I invited her, Isabella. She is my granddaughter and was born with a caul. That makes her one of us, darling.”
“What?” Rose asked, not sure of what she heard. Isabella was glaring at her.
Unnerved, Rose drank more tea, and munched the very sweet cake. Moonlight streamed in through one of the tall French windows that stood in a row along the eastern wall. Its eerie rays lit up the roses as it touched them so that the walls glowed with myriad orbs of white light. Outside, wolves were howling.
A shadow floated up behind Grandma. Grandma stood up and opened the casement window. The howling sounded much closer then. Rose wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw the wolves come into the room and swarm around her grandmother whose eyes lit up at the sight of them, glinting with cold fire. Rose blinked the vision away. It was only smoke from the hearth, after all, not wolves. Isabella was playing in the smoke. She and Grandma were laughing. Grandma tilted her head back and, when she laughed, and her mouth was wide.
Rose heard a snuffling sound beside her, below the wing of the chair. She squeezed her eyes shut, her heart pounding with fright. A hot breath brushed her face. When she opened her eyes, the face of a wolf was at her shoulder, looking at her intently.
“Ah!” she jumped and then froze.
It was staring at her over the arm of the chair, smiling, snarling, smiling. Rose squeezed her eyes shut again and shivered. A cold nose touching her neck. She screamed, but as in a nightmare, could make no sound. When Rose opened her eyes again, the wolf was slowly vanishing into a swirling mist.
Smiling, Grandma swayed toward Rose holding out a delicate china plate with a cake on it.
“Rose, here, eat this cake. It is time to go now.”
Rose obediently held her mouth open for the cake. As she chewed, the room began to clear and energy returned to her body.  Suddenly, Grandma lifted her out up and escorted her to the door. She opened it, and Isabella pushed her out.
Rose stood shivering on the front step. The sky was gray with pre-dawn light. She wasn’t sure if she was awake or dreaming until she heard a voice behind her calling.
“Rose, when you leave, don’t forget to lock the gate. Thank you for visiting your old Grandma. Come again next month, when the moon is full. It has been a great pleasure to have you. Goodbye for now.”
Rose walked down the walkway, her feet crunching over the snow, and went out of the gate. When she turned to lock it, she saw Grandma and Isabella standing in the doorway, waving at her. It was uncanny how much alike they looked, one smaller than the other, but the same.
“Goodbye,” she said softly, still unsure whether she dreamed or not.
The heavy gate closed with a loud clang, almost catching her fingers so that she snapped awake. And indeed, Winterslewe, Grandma, and Isabella, were still there.

This is a work in progress. let me know what you think and if you want more. I might be able to serialize it, but it is a novel and therefore very long.

Please comment! I love to hear what you think.