Flickering Embers

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Chapter 3: Enchanted beginnings

"Well I don't plan on becoming a damsel in distress very often," Mabel laughed, her gaze flicking over to the Viscount as they walked together.

"Well, then I shall dismount from my noble steed and only jump back into the saddle if your knight is needed."

"Best to be my saviour, for I fear I will never require a knight. I'd sooner ready myself for a fight than rely on someone else," Mabel stated, her eyes dulling as her mind wandered.

Mabel remembered back to when she was a child, her mother laying weakly on her bed, the white cotton nightgown closer to a light shade of brown as it covered her frail body. Mabel had prayed so hard for the reaper to spare her, for her mother's sisters to come and lay their hands upon her and heal her darling mother. But her father had refused to let them near, for reasons forever hidden from Mabel. She decided then, at barely 10 years old, that she would never ask someone else to fight for something she wanted. And she had so desperately wanted her mother to stay with her.

So when her father became sick this past year, almost 10 years exactly since her mother's passing, she didn't beg her aunt's for answers to his ailments. He would have refused them anyway. So Mabel found the answers herself and made a promise that she would do whatever she had to, to ensure she didn't lose her only surviving parent.

"Penny for your thoughts," Henry offered, the smile he held not reaching his eyes.

"Merely a penny? I could be constructing the most beautiful prose, that's surely worth more than a penny?"

"Are you?"

"Well now, don't paint me a fool. You do not get to know my thoughts before you have paid for them," she smiled, watching as his smile grew, dancing behind his eyes making them sparkle like the sun catching on a lake.

"Ah, my mistake. Please forgive me."

"Saving me warrants atleast one thought for free I guess. I was thinking about my mother," she mused, unsure why exactly she had felt the need to tell him anything at all. She watched as his gaze fell softly upon her, curiosity twitching his features.

"Is she well?"

"She has not been well for many a year. She passed when I was young."

"I am so sorry to hear that. Although that explains a few things," he muttered the last sentence under his breath, his eyes focused beyond the pair, deep in thought. Mabel started to form a question on her tongue until he brought them, quite suddenly, to a stop in front of a marvellous house. Its beauty pulled her attention straight to it, forgetting his mumble almost instantly.

"May I present to you, Thomerson manor. Or Henry's house, as my mother used to call it when I was a child. Although, do not tell her I told you that, for I am far too old to still use its pet name."

The house that they had come to a halt in front of stood proudly, towering over the houses that graced its sides. It had ten large windows in rows of five covering two-thirds of the house, four smaller ones covering the bottom. A small staircase led to a heavy, dark, oak door that lay between the bottom windows, cloaked a little in shadow despite the daylight. Mabel's breath caught a little in her throat, taking in the grandeur of it.

"Your secret is safe," Mabel replied although her voice was more of a whisper as she brought her fingers to her lips, pretending to lock it. It brought another smile to Henry's in return before he bowed slightly, motioning for her to head inside.

The door opened as if it sensed their arrival, an older male gentleman appearing on the other side, stealing the magic. His gaze immediately fell upon Mabel and disgust rippled across his features briefly before his eyes flickered to the Viscount.

"Really sir? Another?" The butler inquired and Mabel's gaze fluttered to Henry, her smile widening at the comment.

"Oh, Harold nonsense. There are never too many," Henry replied, causing Mabel's smile to contort into one of confusion.

"Never too many? Do you have a drawing-room full of ladies? Led here with the promise of tea only to find something a little less sweet?"

Henry's laughter boomed around the walls of the hallway, pulling at Mabel to do the same but she resisted. She instead focused on the paintings that graced the walls of his beautiful home. Each picture depicted something different but all were housed in similar frames, golden wood fencing each one in as if ensuring none spilled over into the other.

Blue damask wallpaper covered the walls behind the paintings, a similar shade to Henry's coat. His waistcoat that Mabel took note of as it peeked out from under it had the same spirals around its edges, as if the dressmaker had taken inspiration from the wallpaper itself. He could stand in front of it, stealing an empty frame, and look like a painting on the wall. The image caused a small chuckle to erupt from her mouth before she could stifle it.

"I promise no ladies have ever been kept here against their will. Although, if you ask my grandmother she may say different. Apparently, this house was her prison and my grandfather her jailer."

"Oh, I see. That's the future that befalls the viscountess of Thomerson manor."

"I hope not. I don't fancy myself much of a jailer, far too soft in nature," he smiled.

Henry led Mabel into the drawing-room, a large room that held such splendour it caught Mabel a little off guard, despite the beauty that had lain before it. A green chair sat opposite a double chair, both with beautiful walnut limbs. There was wallpaper upon two walls, a similar shade of green, with subtle vines twisting and turning up and down as if the garden had been brought inside. They lay boldly on either side of a white marble fireplace, a golden framed mirror resting on top, effortlessly tying the hallway decor into this one. Mabel had truly never seen a house this beautiful. Her family home seemed very modest in comparison and yet they were amongst the highest of class in her street.

"So," Henry began, "Tea?"

"Answers first. Tea after," Mabel answered, sitting gently on the soft fabric of the double chair. For a moment she thought Henry would take the space next to her despite her petticoat spilling over half of the cushion. But instead, he lowered himself on to the matching chair in front of her, flicking his coat out from behind as he sat. He didn't meet her gaze, a silence spreading out between them, his fingers fiddling with the silk ruffles that spilled out from beneath cuffs of blue.

"Are you sure you don't want tea?"

"I am sure. Are you warm? You can remove your coat if you wish."

He nodded instead of replying, standing and removing his coat rather clumsily, half balling it into his hands instead of asking the servant to collect it or simply hanging it upon the back of his chair.

"I can trust you? Yes?" he inquired as he sat, his eyes dancing across hers before twirling upon the floor by her feet. Mabel thought it quite peculiar seeing as she was the one that had followed a stranger to their home, not the other way around.

"Yes, but shouldn't I be the one asking that question?"

"Ha, yes. But what I mean is, if I tell you all I have to tell, even if you do not believe my words, you must not tell them to others."

"Of course. But I have no cause to doubt what you shall tell me."

"No. I guess you do not. But when they fall from my mouth even I sometimes have a hard time remembering them to be true."

"So," he continued, still fiddling with the now misshapen coat in his lap. Mabel rose and Henry's gaze followed her, her hands outstretched as she reached for the ball of fabric. Her fingers glanced his briefly before she collected the coat in her hands, sitting back down and carefully folding it onto the space next to her.

"Carry on," she instructed when his gaze remained upon her, no words leaving his mouth as it sat a little open.

"Oh, yes. You are in danger," he rushed out. He fell silent again once they were in the air, the words floating about aimlessly with no context to weigh them down.

"Well, I knew that already," Mabel retorted, sitting a little straighter in her seat, fearful that this little adventure would prove pointless.

"No, you don't understand. That woman earlier, she is a dark priestess," he explained and Mabel stared on in confusion.

"A dark priestess? But she accused me of witchcraft? Why would a witch accuse me of such a thing, knowing what it would mean for me? When she believed me to be one of her own?"

"She knew you to be an enchantress, not a priestess, the two are entirely different. Clara would have killed you herself if you hadn't been in the middle of the market," he continued, causing Mabel's mind to descend into a spiral of questions and emotions.

"I am not a witch," she stated, her fingers starting to fiddle with the fabric upon her legs, her petticoat twisting between her fingertips causing the material to bunch up when they stilled.

"Oh, but you are. Witches can sense each other's power. That's why I was in the market that morning. I was investigating the power surge I'd felt the night before," he smiled, looking at Mabel as if she should understand what he was talking about.

"Power surge?"

"Yes, last night I sensed Clara but that was nothing new, I had been monitoring her movements since she arrived in town last week. But then a felt another presence, a stronger one. One of light. But the power trail seemed to pulse and wane, as if the person had little to no control over the magic they wielded."

"And...you think...that power was me?" she asked, a giggle escaping along with the last word. Her heart had started to beat faster in her chest, her corset suddenly feeling like a prison her heart was trying to escape from. With each breath it felt tighter, the whalebone pieces transforming into a vice as her ribs desperately begged for more space. Mabel was starting to realise she really couldn't breathe but that realisation did little to ease the panic, if anything it made her body struggle more.

"It was you. I can feel it," he replied, his face free of any humour. Mabel struggled to construct a reply, her mind focused on the fact she still couldn't quite catch her breath.

"Are you alright? You look a little...pale."

Mabel shook her head, her hands pulling at her sides, informing Henry of her sudden predicament. His cheeks blushed as he realised it was her corset causing the issue. He stood but didn't move further, clearly unsure what he was meant to do to help her.

"Do I-?" Henry started but Mabel's furious nods answered before he had finished. He thankfully rushed to her side, his hands pulling at the laces at the back, his fingertips grazing the skin between her shoulder blades as he attempted to loosen the corset. Mabel felt it the second he was successful, a large inhale calming her body's attack.

He sat next to her on the double chair as she turned towards him, embarrassment staining her cheeks a very bright shade of pink. Whilst Mabel was thankful that once again he had come to her aid, she was now in a state of undress in his drawing-room. Her arms rested across her stomach, under her breasts, fearful that the dress would fall lower now the corset wasn't pinning the material in place.

"Is there someone...um...that can help me...um...redress?" Mabel asked, her voice quiet. Henry continued to smile softly at her, before her eyes widened, informing him she did actually need an answer. He nodded forcefully, breaking from her gaze as he stood once more.

"Harold!" he boomed, taking Mabel by surprise. The butler from before appeared silently and within seconds as if waiting in the wings to be summoned.

"Yes, sir."

"Can you summon Sarah, mother's lady maid? Miss Blacksmith needs assistance."

The butlers gaze settled heavily on Mabel, the look of disgust that had greeted her when they first met once again prominent on his face.

"Really? So soon?" he asked, disgust spilling over into his tone.

"Harold! Keep your mind out of the gutters! The lady had a spell and needed assistance as her corset was too tight. A ridiculous contraption, how anyone is meant to breathe in one is beyond me."

When the Butler neither moved nor answered, instead still gazing heavily at Mabel, Henry stepped before her, obscuring her from Harold's view.

"Do you believe me to be false? A rake? Were you watching from the shadows and saw something else occur?" he inquired. Mabel lent to her left so she could see the butlers reaction, a grin pulling at the corners of her mouth when shock rippled across his.

"Well...no...sir...I...didn't mean...I didn't imply that any matters of indecency occurred...I shall fetch Sarah immediately," he stammered, his answers broken as he rushed to reply. He strode quickly from Henry's presence, leaving the pair once again alone.

"That was fun," Henry laughed, "did you see how wide his eyes went when I accused him of watching us from the shadows?"

"They almost lept from his face."

"Serves him right. He shouldn't have judged you especially when you are my guest. And one that shall be gracing these halls often I hope."

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