Chapter 1: A Perfect Life
A Perfect Life
"A perfect life, the kind you dream of
waits for me, and yet and yet
I can't shut out this sense of dread, this haunting doubt.
-"A Perfect Life" from Dracula the Musical by Frank Wildhorn
Sarah leaned in and pressed her forehead to the smooth coolness of the window pane. She let out a sigh as the heat that was raging over her head was soothed slightly by the glass. She tilted her head and pressed her cheek to the pane, first one, then the other. Even though the heat was lessened externally, the window's cold caress did nothing to abet the fire that was raging in her mind. Why had everything become instantaneously more difficult and complex? It simply wasn't fair.
After all, merely a week ago, the Williams family had been one of the wealthiest shipping empires in all of Wolverston. Robert Williams, the master of Warwick Manor was the prosperous merchant in charge of ferrying precious goods to the southern ports cities of Pembrookshire and Devon.
His first wife, Linda Williams had died giving birth to his daughter, Sarah. Though Robert was overcome with grief from the loss of his wife, he did not neglect little Sarah's upbringing. She was tutored by the best governesses that could be found. When Sarah was 12, Robert learned what it was to love anew. He married Karen, a kind but vain woman. She was slightly younger than he, with sandy pale hair and stormy grey eyes; a compliment to his hazel and chestnut. Her penchant for mathematics and bookwork coupled with Robert's knowledge of shipping routes and tradable goods created the empire upon which their family thrived.
Moreover, they also created a son together, christened Tobias, but fondly dubbed Toby. He was his mother in miniature, with a blonde shock of hair, and baby blue eyes.
Sarah remembered the day well. She had been organizing the books in the library and Karen was out in the garden, attempting to teach Toby how to plant vegetables. It was spring, when all the flowers were just starting to bloom, and the days warm.
Sarah heard the clip-clopping of a horse in the stone courtyard, and the murmur of Karen's voice asking an indistinguishable question to the new arrival, who sighed something in return. Karen's voice let out a strangled moan and started firing a volley of questions at the person.
At Karen's despondent moan, Sarah had run to the window. Her father, looking very careworn and woebegone sat astride his horse was explaining something to Karen, who was crumpled in
the garden, clutching a terrified-looking Toby.
Everything was lost; the business, the home, the money, all gone in order to repay the debts that arose after the business failed. Most of what was left over was auctioned off, the stately furniture, the fine carriages and horses, the books from the library, everything, save for a lone draft horse, a hay wagon, and some personal possessions.
Sarah looked around at the empty, echoing library as her reveries dissolved. At twenty-three years of age, Sarah looked every bit the part of a young woman, with startlingly green eyes and dark hair that fell down her back, free of curl or wave.
A trifle bit spoiled, and more than a little bratty, Sarah had grown from being daddy's little princess in to a headstrong and fiery-tempered young woman who could be hasty in decisions, but full of love for her family.
But all that didn't matter now. Al that mattered was the future of the Williams family. They had a week from the day they had auctioned off their belongings to move out, and the auction had been four days ago. Sarah felt completely despondent with despair and trepidation for their future.
Sarah turned slightly as she heard the door to the library creak open. Her father walked in, a watery smile stretching his face. It did not quite reach his eyes.
"Sarah dear, in the library still? I would have thought you'd never come in here again after all your precious books ran off to new homes." He gave a weak chuckle and pattered her arm in the way that is innate in the nature of all fathers.
"Oh Papa," Sarah turned her head up, and placed a small kiss on his temple. "I was just looking for somewhere to think. The library seemed a fitting place."
Robert cocked his head slightly, a worried look marring his mask-like attempt at composure. "Thinking of what, m'dear?"
Sarah looked up at him again, despair etched across her face. Robert gave a heavy sigh and sat on the stone bench next to his daughter.
"Sarah, I know that this is a hard time, it is for all of us…" He was cut off as the door opened again. Karen crept in, looking just as careworn as Robert, her sandy hair pulled back in a severe bun.
"Karen," Robert breathed a sigh, "Good. You're here. Now we can discuss what lies ahead for our family."
Sarah gave her father a quizzical look, but he just motioned for her to be quiet as he went on.
"As you both very well know, we need to be out of this house by Friday, a mere three days away.
I'm sure that you both have also figured out that it would be immensely difficult for us to stay here in the city. We can no longer live in Wolverston. It vastly beyond our means." He raked his hand through his hair, his face lined with anguish.
"Where are we to go?" He looked over at Karen, who stood by an empty bookshelf, her arms wrapped tightly around her body.
"Fear not, my love," he tenderly responded, "I have already figured that out."
Sarah sat up, her eyes wild with a trace of hope in their emerald depths. "Where?" she breathed, eyes flashing.
The simplicity of his statement was shocking. The word hung in the air, a hush falling across the room.
North! Sarah's mind wheeled at the prospect. The adventurous part of her spirit reveled at the idea of venturing into the unknown, where fey magic still ran wild. Such thrilling tales were brought from the North; tales of epic proportions and unique curiosity. At the same time, the practical part of Sarah's mind quailed at the thought. There was so much uncertainty and oddity concerning the northern parts, due mostly to the presence of magic.
Magic. Sarah mentally made it a curse. Only those with cold hearts and keen minds were able to wield magic, and most of those people weren't people at all, but magical beings. Most magical beings did not live in the cities, preferring the quiet solitude that was afforded by life in the North. Magic wasn't so much an integral part of life in Wolverston. There were herbalists who made charms and amulets for luck and other pleasantries, and mages who worked for men of power, protecting them both physically and mentally. There were also a handful of dwarves and elves, but such creatures were scarce in the South. Up North, there were a vast number of magical beings: proud dragons, shrewd goblins, tricky fairies, peaceful fauns, wise centaurs, powerful fae and beasts so fantastic that no name could even begin to describe them. Up North, magic ran as free and uninhibited as a mountain stream, a fundamental part of everything and everyone. Sarah gave a little shudder.
"N-North?" Karen stuttered, looking deeply unsettled. "B-but Robert! Where will we go in the North? Where will we live? It isn't safe! What will happen if we run in to a griffin, or-or a basilisk, or…"
"Karen," Robert cut across her sharply, "I have it all planned out. We will go to the town of Bracknell Fen. My great-aunt left me the deed for a cottage there when she died. I had never paid much heed to it before, thinking it a worthless property. Apparently the debtors thought the same. We thankfully own that cottage. As for your fears of the journey, it is not unduly ardous, nor is it an exorbitantly long one. We can start a new life in Bracknell Fen, Karen, a new life!"
"Oh, my dear!" Karen exhaled with a little sigh. "All the same, what of our security? A home
will do us no good if we are slaughtered in the night by some rouge beast as we travel. What
"You must have more faith in me than that, dearest. We will leave at midday on Friday in the company of waggoners. They traverse the trail North regularly, and they are familiar with the ways of the road. The number of men will keep your beasts at bay, Karen."
"Its settled then." Karen looked both nervous and comforted. "Well, if we are to leave on Friday, then we must start packing and gathering provisions for our journey. Off with you two." Karen shooed Sarah and Robert out of the library. She gave Sarah a gentle shove in the direction of her room, while she tugged Robert over to the stairs. "Go pack your things, Sarah. Robert, you must come help me in the kitchen. There is so much to do…"
Sarah turned and trudged to her room, leaving Karen and Robert discussing the pros and cons of certain pots and pans. Terror, anticipation, fear and wonder clouded her face. Well Sarah, here is your marvelous, grand adventure that you have so longed for. How quickly your life is becoming like one of your beloved books. Sarah could hardly admit it to herself.
She was excited.