Chapter 1. Catrin Llewelyn.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom." -- Maya Angelou
The candles flickered in the nearly dark room, casting dancing shadows over the portraits and paintings that hung on the walls. The fire burning brightly in the fireplace gave warm and slightly mysterious glow to the room. The blinds had already been shut, the curtains drawn and the silent room spoke how the entire household having already gone to bed. Save the figure curled up on the large sofa. Her little nose was buried in the pages of a book and her light blue eyes darted back and forth as they ate up every word printed on the page. She was pretty in an innocent sort of way with her light brown hair gathered up in a simple bun and a few curls hanging loose. Her figure was slim and delicate, and there was a childish feeling surrounding her. Gazing at her from a distance you would have never guessed the girl had already turned nineteen.
Catrin Llewelyn, for that is the name of the bookworm, lifted her head from out of the pages and let out a frightened sigh.
"I must say, my dear Empress," she whispered to the majestic feline who lay sprawled on an overstuffed cushion. "Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales are truly entertaining, yet they can be a little frightening at times. Do you not agree?"
The snowball of a cat, whose full name was Her Royal Majesty The Empress of Derwen Goch* Manor, but who did not object if you called her simply 'Your Majesty', only turned her head and let out a yawn.
"Oh, silly me," Catrin laughed, her melodic voice ringing out across the empty room. "I haven't been reading aloud, so you have no way of knowing what a frightful place I am on. Poor Hansel and Gretel are now at the mercy of a witch." Catrin shuddered as she imagined the scene she had been reading. "What a horrible thing to happen. I would have died if I ever came face to face with a witch."
Her Majesty licked her paws in a careless fashion. "If it is so frightening," she seemed to say, "then why do you read it?"
"And to think the witch wants to eat poor Hansel," Catrin continued, running her hand though the cat's soft fur. "We must read on, oh we truly must."
"I will ask you not to touch me in such a manner." The cat brushed the hand away with her paw
The door squeaked open and Magwen, the housekeeper of the large house, peeked in.
"Miss Llewelyn," she scolded as soon as she noticed Catrin by the fireplace. "It is late and high time you were in bed!"
"I shall go to bed when I am finished with the story!" Catrin replied. "Hansel and Gretel just came up to the witch. I must get to the end or I shan't sleep all night."
"Miss Llewelyn, you have read that book from cover to cover at least six times. You know how the story is going to end. Why you are so fascinated with those foreign stories is beyond me. Are not the tales and legends of your homeland good enough? You hardly speak in your native tongue at all, preferring to read books in, what language is it?"
Catrin rolled her eyes. "It is German," she stated. "And Brothers Grimm are the new sensation. They've collected so many fairy tales into one book. You cannot blame me for loving it so much. If you could read the stories you would understand. It can't always be about Wales, Magwen. Every accomplished young lady must know the modern languages and German is one of them. The book is a perfect opportunity for me to practice."
Magwen shook her head. "If that is your opinion, Miss Llewelyn, then I will not argue with you. Now go off to bed."
Catrin stubbornly shook her head. "I do not wish to go to bed just yet. What if Mamma and Beatrice should return home tonight? Bea said they would be back around the Ides of March, which have past already. Tomorrow will be the 17th. It will be a great pity if they return and I'm asleep."
The housekeeper shook her head sadly. "Miss Llewelyn, you know the Missus will always drag out stays away from here."
"Oh, but London is droll and Bath is dreary in March," Catrin desperately argued. "Mamma will have nothing to do there. They always return to the manor in the spring. I shan't wait up the whole night, I promise. I'll only finish the book and if they are not back I'll go to bed." With that Catrin turned her attention to the story.
Magwen gave another shake of her head and departed from the room.
Catrin found it hard to focus on her book however, she was busy thinking of the return of her stepmamma and stepsister. They had gone to London in the beginning of December and remained there for the entire winter. Catrin had been forced to stay behind on the manor as Mamma said she was far too delicate to go in such cold weather. It seemed whenever Mamma and Bea went to London or Bath there was some legitimate reason why Catrin should not go.
"Don't you suppose it would be wonderful if Mamma would take us to London next time?" Catrin suddenly asked the kitty.
"I do not like traveling," Her Majesty thought as she groomed herself.
"So many people," Catrin dreamily leaned back on the large cushions of the divan. "Balls, dinner parties, afternoon tea engagements, how wonderful it must be."
"And I cannot abide large crowds," the cat added, still busy with her grooming.
"How I envy Bea," Catrin sighed. "She always gets to go out with Mamma while I must remain here."
"Of all the people to envy, why her? Have you ever noticed that Bea is never happy?" Her Majesty pointed out as she stretched lazily on the silk cushion.
"Oh well, she shall come today and tell me all about it," Catrin concluded and tried to focus on Hansel and Gretel once again.
"Oh, please, can they not come today?" Her Majesty sighed. "My nerves have only recovered from that horrible canine. Such a rowdy, messy creature who refuses to acknowledge my superiority. He is the only one of my subjects who does not respect my wishes or obey my orders. Why they do not get rid of him is a never ending mystery to me. Perhaps you could speak to your silly stepsister and say I am sick of her pet and wish for her to rid us all of his disgusting presence."
If Catrin could have heard the thoughts of her cat she might have begged her stepsister to give the dog away, for Her Majesty's happiness meant everything to Catrin. But she had no way of knowing what was going on in her pet's head, and so the spoken of canine was destined to continue being a thorn in the flesh of the Derwen Goch Royalty.
Catrin continued reading, but she couldn't focus much on the story. Her mind was busy wondering when Mamma and Bea would return home. At last the tale finished and Catrin closed the book, running her hand over the cover with the beautiful designs engraved into the leather. It had been a Christmas present from Bea, sent all the way from London. It was the one comfort Catrin had had during her lonely Christmas. She loved Brothers Grimm and she loved their collection of fairy tales. And it was a true comfort to know Bea had not forgotten about her.
"I am much like the princesses in here," Catrin thought as she stroked the book. "Locked away in a tower, guarded by a fierce dragon and waiting, waiting for my prince to show up and rescue me." She turned to her cat and scratched the feline's ear. "Only in real life of course princes don't come and do any rescuing. Bea says all men these days are nothing more than hogs who treat women like things. I suppose she knows what she is talking about, she meets a lot of them while in London and Bath. I wonder if I will have as nasty an opinion of the male race when I finally get out." Catrin let out a sigh and glanced out the window. Surely one day Mamma would set her free from the manor that had become her prison, and she finally see the world, attend balls and get to know people. Just like her stepsister, Beatrice Morton.
Catrin's eyelids were just beginning to droop when a loud barking coming from the hall told her that her stepmother and stepsister had finally returned. Quickly the girl jumped from the divan and placing the book on the table hurried out of the door. Sure enough, when she came to the front door she found the elegant figure of her stepmother standing in the hall, giving her coat to the butler. Beatrice was just walking in, but she brushed rudely past her mother and made her way towards the stairs. Only Argos, Beatrice's large St. Bernard dog seemed to be glad to see Catrin. He danced around her and barked joyfully. Catrin laughed and tried to keep his enormous paws from staining her dress.She swore the dog had gotten bigger since last autumn. Beatrice retraced her steps and grabbing his collar dragged him off with her.
"Did you have a pleasant trip?" Catrin dared call after her.
"Not very," Beatrice snapped over her shoulder in a tired, annoyed voice.
"How was your time in London?"
"Same as always." Beatrice curtly replied and stomped off to her room.
"Six offers, she turned down six offers," Mrs. Llewelyn wailed. "I never saw such a disagreeable girl in my whole life. Beatrice Morton," she angrily called to her daughter. "You owe me an explanation for this!"
"I owe you nothing, Mamma," Beatrice's voice sounded from the top floor. This answer was followed by a harsh slamming of a door and then the loud music of a piano.
"Oh, insufferable child," Mrs. Llewelyn fumed. "She always does this, blocks me out with that annoying music. Well, she won't be able to avoid me forever. You should have seen her in the carriage. Rode all the way from London with a stone face and never said a word to me, not one word! And that dog, that horrible beast of hers riding with us. The smell from his fur clogged up the air and made it nearly impossible to breathe. My head is still aching from from our journey. Magwen, have Bess bring me my salts, or I shall surely faint. Next time, Beatrice we are leaving him on the manor!" Mrs. Llywelyn gave an angry toss of her head and seemed to notice Catrin for the first time. "What are you doing up so late?" She demanded of stepdaughter.
"I wanted to welcome you back home," Catrin replied in a shy voice. Her stepmamma was always so cross and severe and Catrin was rather timorous in her presence.
"Go off to bed, child. It is late and you are of delicate health. Go on, off with you." Mrs. Llewelyn waved her away and departed to her own quarters, mumbling all the time about the six offers Beatrice turned down.
Catrin gave a little sigh. She really should stop hoping that they would ever be glad when they returned from their city visits. "Why is Bea always so upset when she returns from London?" Catrin asked Magwen, who was standing next to her.
"I wouldn't know, Miss Llewelyn," Magwen said with a small shrug.
"I'll go talk to her," Catrin decided and was about to run off but Magwen stopped her.
"Now, now, Miss Llewelyn, you know better than to go to Miss Morton when she just returns from a trip to London. The girl is always angry and upset with life. She'll snap at you and you'll end up in tears and then the Missus will give us all what for. Wait till tomorrow morning."
"Oh, you're right," Catrin sighed. "I was hoping this time it would be different, that she would return happy and dying to tell me all about her adventures. You know how Bea always has adventures in London, she always has adventures everywhere. Why if I was given at least one day in London I would float on the clouds from joy, Bea has a full four months there and she returns as sour as a lemon." Catrin sighed and returned to her room. Oh, she hated the March; she hated it just as much as Julius Caesar must have. Her family was home, but that didn't change anything. She was still alone tonight.
"But I shan't despair," Catrin quietly said as she prepared for bed. "Papa would not have wanted me to despair. The darkest hour is right before dawn after all." She knelt by the basket where a fancy, beautiful cushion served as bed for the cat. Her Majesty had already escaped to this sacred corner, it was the one place that was truly safe from the much hated dog.
"Argos is bigger you know," Catrin informed. "Mamma was quite put out about how she had to ride with him in the carriage. She said his fur smelled strongly and gave her headaches.
"Oh joy!" Thought the cat and rolled over. Life would truly become insufferable now!
*Llewelyn: pronounced lhø-WÊ-lin
*Derwen Goch: meaning Red Oak in Welsh