In the Beginning
Part 1: In the Beginning
I saw you from a distance
A beacon amongst the damned
Your smile left me breathless
I seek your shining light
Come with me, girl so lost
Let us dance and be lost together
For my heart also seeks a truth
One that common life won’t give
You move like a vision in white
And I let you play your game
For my heart has been ensnared
By your web of ice and fire
We are separated by tragedy
Yet it may bring us together
And though my heart breaks for you
I wish our souls to shatter as one
Mr. Raven didn’t notice his office window had come ajar, allowing a strand of chilly air to curl inside and worm its way towards him. It embraced him, causing the hairs on his neck to stand.
“Goodness, Cirius, have you gone deaf?” Two hands slammed onto his desktop.
“Oh…” He jolted. “I didn’t hear you come in.” He began organizing the piles of papers strewn across his desk.
Mr. Roberts shook his head. “Haven’t you noticed the time?” He tapped the gold watch on his wrist. “I believe you’ve lost track of it again, unless you meant to work until eight o’clock.”
Mr. Raven straightened to his full height, towering above Mr. Roberts. “Eight?!” He grabbed his briefcase and began stuffing papers and folders into it. “The wife will have my head!”
Mr. Roberts chuckled. “Ah yes… and how is your Sophie doing?”
“Fine,” he said without thinking. He threw on his coat and headed for the door. “Do excuse me. I must get home to the family.”
Mr. Roberts waved him on with a laugh. “Yes, yes, course.”
Mr. Raven rushed down the wide staircase and out the double doors into the winter night. There was a flurry of snowflakes sparkling in the glow of the streetlights. He walked with purpose, briefcase occasionally smacking his leg. It was a brisk, brief walk.
When he came up the street to his house, he saw his wife was standing alone on the porch. She crossed her arms, mouth down-turned. He exhaled, his breath like smoke in the chilling air. “I’m sorry. I… I lost track of time.”
Sophie uncrossed her arms. “That seems to happen a lot of late.” She hurried inside the house.
Mr. Raven shuffled up the porch and through the front door. He hung his coat in the hall closet and removed his boots before padding into the kitchen.
“Where are the children?”
“I sent them to bed.”
Mr. Raven placed his briefcase on the table and put his hands on Sophie’s shoulders. “You needn’t do that now,” he whispered, turning her away from the sink.
“It won’t get done otherwise,” she snapped.
He wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin near her neck. “Tomorrow is my day off. I’ll do it. Just come to bed…”
Sophie whirled on him, shoving the dish towel against his chest. “You can do them right now, then. I’ll go check on the children.” She left the kitchen.
He sighed heavily, put the dish towel aside, and began washing. He picked up a plate and began scrubbing at a difficult stain. A few pieces of hair fell into his eyes. He glared and yanked them aside with a soapy hand. His hair had gone solid white early in life.
He was suddenly tackled about the waist. His daughter looked up at him earnestly, eyes and smile that of her mother’s. He wiped his hands on the towel and then picked her up, holding her close.
“I didn’t hear you come in, Papa!”
“I’m sorry, my dear, I had to work late.”
“Again?” Angelique’s eyes searched his face. “Is it really that busy?”
“You know winter is hardest,” he replied. “That’s when many of the orphans seek asylum, because it’s too cold for them to live on the streets any longer.”
“Why would they wait until winter? The orphanage is there to help them.”
“It is. I suppose some of them don’t want to be caged in… don’t want to follow the rules.”
“I think that’s silly.”
Mr. Raven laughed. “Do you now? Why is that?”
“Because the rules are there to help them.”
He smiled and kissed her. “You are beyond your years, Angelique. Where is your brother? Is he in bed?” He placed her down gently.
“I was trying to put him to bed after I helped him wash his face, but he wouldn’t stop running around!”
“Perhaps your mother has had more luck. Come on, let’s go check.”
They went up the staircase to the second floor and were nearly knocked backwards by a sudden whoosh as Angelique’s brother, naked as a peach, went streaking across the hall.
“Charles!” Mr. Raven ran after him. “Charles, where are your clothes?!”
Angelique stood on the top step, doubled-over in laughter.
“I have them!” Sophie came from the bathroom, frizzy strands of hair covering her face. “That little devil slipped right out of his pajamas before I could catch him!”
As Mr. Raven got close enough to grab the boy, the bedroom door shut in his face. “Charles! Open the door.” He rattled the doorknob. “Charles! Enough play. It’s time for bed.” His cheeks flushed. “Open the door, Charles!” His voice became louder as he pounded on the door. “This is not a game!”
Sophie rushed over and knocked his hands away. “You’ll scare him!”
“He’s being an impertinent little —”
“I’ll get him out.” Angelique squeezed between her parents. She extracted a hairpin from her honey-gold ponytail and began working it into the keyhole. Mr. and Mrs. Raven glanced at each other with furrowed brows. A few moments later there was a pop! and she opened the door.
Charles was nowhere to be seen. Angelique put a finger to her lips and silenced her gawking parents. She tiptoed over to the bed, got down on her hands and knees, and looked underneath.
“Don’t be silly, Charles, the pajamas don’t have spiders in them. Come on out, I’ll show you.”
First came Charles’ little feet, soon after his bare bottom, finally followed by a head full of platinum blonde curls. Angelique took the pajamas from her mother and let Charles scrutinize them.
“See? I told you. Now be a good boy and put them on. You’re getting all goose pimply!”
As Angelique helped her little brother into his clothes, Mr. Raven and Sophie exchanged small smiles.
“She’s so good with him,” Mr. Raven said.
“Much better than either of us,” Sophie agreed.
Mr. Raven reached out for her hand. “I’m sorry I was late.”
Sophie let him grasp her hand for a moment before pulling away. “It’s forgotten, Cirius. Angelique, darling, be a good girl and put your brother to bed and then go to sleep.”
“Aw, Mama, can’t I stay up a while longer? I’m reading this wonderful book!”
“Alright, but not much longer.” Sophie closed the door to the children’s room and headed down the hall.
Mr. Raven followed behind her. When she opened their bedroom door and slipped inside, he quickly closed it and caught her by the waist before she could float away. He pulled her close and nuzzled into her hair. He breathed in deep; honey and lemon. She pulled away. “Please don’t…”
His lips caressed her cheek. “Won’t you stay?”
Sophie gradually leaned back into his embrace. His heart beat against her back. She closed her eyes. “You’re gone so much…”
“Let’s not talk about it now. Just… just stay here with me. A little longer.”
Mr. Roberts’ house, which was often the venue for fanciful occasions, had a lovely ballroom. Mr. Raven, much to his dismay, always received an invitation to these occasions and was expected to attend. He spent much more time than necessary in front of the mirror in his bedroom, combing his hair, fiddling with his cravat, buttoning and unbuttoning the neck of his tunic. He fiddled and fussed for as long as he could, glancing back at his wife every so often. It was an hour into the event when she approached him.
“Cirius, really. You’ve been in front of that mirror for well over half an hour. Mr. Roberts is expecting you. Now go.” She shooed him away and took a seat in front of the mirror.
He leaned over the back of the chair. “What will I do without you there?”
She squeezed a lemon over an open bottle and grimaced as she did so. “The same that you would with me there. Stand by Mr. Roberts’ side as though you were his shadow, avoiding conversation and dancing.”
Mr. Raven scowled. “I dance with you. Are you certain you can’t come?”
“I never get through more than one song with you.” She gave the squished lemon one last squeeze before tossing it into the waste bin near her dressing table. “I never buy enough of these.” She put the topper back on the bottle. “You know I can’t leave the children alone, and Charles is much too ill to go out tonight. But you have no excuse! You know Mr. Roberts won’t let the issue rest if you don’t make an appearance at least.” She began wetting her hair with the lemon solution.
“Fine, fine.” He waved at her dismissively. “I will make an appearance. That doesn’t require any deep conversations, interviews, or dancing.” He paused. “Do you really think that works?”
She turned to him with a frown. “How do you think my hair stays so golden?”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll be home early.” He made his way downstairs and into the hall, pulling his coat from the closet. He donned his coat and a hat and stepped into the frigid night air, closing the door behind him. He paused for a moment, listening; complete silence.
Their little city nestled itself snugly between the ocean and a vast wood that remained untouched. Its streets were lined with grand Victorian Gothics, Mr. Raven’s being one of the finest. The outskirts of the city were marred with signs of poverty and disease.
Mr. Roberts’ home was a magnificent manor house with a fence surrounding the entire property, and a beautiful stone walkway leading to the grand double doors. It had lovingly crafted marble floors and tapestried walls, open and empty space. And thanks to Mr. Roberts never having children, most of it remained open and empty.
Mr. Raven took a deep breath and pulled at the cravat about his neck, face flushed. With great effort he opened the door, immediately swallowed by the din of lively music and many conversations tittering all at once. He let the door slide closed behind him and stumbled forward, met with loud music, chatter and excitement radiating throughout the room.
A man that Mr. Raven recognized as Mr. Roberts’ butler approached him.
“Thank you,” Mr. Raven said, removing the articles and placing them into the butler’s outstretched arms. He waded through groups of businessmen guffawing loudly at inappropriate jokes, flocks of women trying to drink their wine daintily and giggling profusely, and a sea of twirling, whirling dresses and shoes. He could just catch the sounds of Mr. Roberts’ laughter, and he moved feverishly towards that noise.
He clambered forward, bumping, mumbling, and uttering apologies. No matter how many steps he took, he seemed no closer to his goal. Something suddenly caught his eye: a flash of red. He stopped short and turned. A short distance away, appearing confused and flustered, was a young woman with bright red hair. She wore an elegant white dress, a choker necklace, and jeweled pins in her hair. She stood removed from the crowd, though surrounded.
Their eyes locked. As she stared back, her expression softened. Mr. Raven tried to muster an encouraging smile, but his mouth remained still. He couldn’t move. He just kept staring.
Then she disappeared into the sea of dancers, and the spell broke. Mr. Raven shook himself, vision hazy and limbs heavy.
He began pushing his way towards the place where she had been, but he reached the spot and she was not there, nor did she seem to be anywhere. He was heading towards the refreshments table when he suddenly caught sight of her vibrant hair. He turned swiftly, and there she was again, staring at him unblinkingly from a distance. Her lips curved in the beginnings of a smile. Mr. Raven acknowledged her with a nod. Her smile widened, and with a wink, she vanished.
They continued on for some time, she appearing where he least expected her, him offering some acknowledgement in hopes she would allow his approach. He finally caught up with his elusive admirer and reached out for her wrist, closing his long fingers around it. She startled when he grabbed her and whipped about combatively, then stopped short. Mr. Raven released her and bowed deeply.
“Forgive me,” he said, voice low and robust. “I didn’t mean to alarm you. But you have been toying with me for close to an hour. Will you reward my efforts with a dance?”
She regarded him for a moment, eyes alight. She gave a little curtsy, and when she lifted her head, he could make out the details of her smile: dimples that formed in her cheeks and the tilt of her lips. “Very well,” she replied.
He offered her his hand. She took it obligingly. For a moment there was a strangeness in the hand that entered his; then they were off, spinning, wheeling, soaring. Their movements were smooth and rhythmic, as though their hands and feet were previously acquainted. The longer they danced, the more attention they drew. When Mr. Raven finally required a respite, he offered the young lady his arm, and they made their way towards the refreshment table.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment,” she said when they reached the table. “My father is just over there. I shouldn’t avoid him the entire evening.” She flashed him a quick and quirky smile before gliding away.
Mr. Raven was reaching for a glass of wine when Mr. Roberts came up from behind and clapped him on the shoulder. There was a crash and a deep red stain began its way down the white linen covering the table. Mr. Raven fumbled for his handkerchief.
“Don’t bother, don’t bother,” Mr. Roberts chuckled. “The maids will get it. Listen, Cirius, you’ve made quite a stir tonight.”
“Don’t play coy, ol’ boy. I’ve seen you and that redheaded vixen traipsing across the floor, all eyes and smiles. You don’t miss a step, do you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Heat rushed into Mr. Raven’s face, flushing his cheeks.
“You’ve no reason to lie to me, Cirius. I won’t tell the wife.” He gave Mr. Raven a devious wink.
A single drop of sweat traveled down the side of Mr. Raven’s brow. “What I meant,” he began stiffly, “was that there is nothing to tell. I tried to enjoy myself at this party you insisted I come to. You know I’m not one for idle chatter, so I thought dancing was the better option.”
“Yes, but dancing with the most coveted girl in the entire room? Was that a requirement for you to enjoy yourself?”
“No! Of course not! But she was toying with me — ”
“Do you know who she is, Cirius?”
“No, why would I?”
Mr. Roberts shook his head and sighed. “Cirius, you really should. She is the daughter of the Pemberly family.”
Mr. Raven’s eyes widened. “Pemberly? The Pemberly…?”
“Yes, the Pemberly, as in Mayor Pemberly. And if I’m not mistaken, Mayor Pemberly was watching quite closely as you danced with his daughter. His only daughter.”
Mr. Raven looked across the way to where she was standing with the mayor. Her father was staring at him with a deeply embedded scowl. He turned away quickly.
“His wife died shortly after childbirth. Mayor Pemberly is going to keep the lock and key on that one until the last possible moment. You can be sure of that.”
Mr. Raven sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose as a pressure began behind his eyes. “Why are we even having this discussion? It was a dance, nothing more.”
Mr. Roberts snorted. “I’d like to believe you, I would, but I saw something deep, between your eyes and hers. And there; you still have it.”
“That look. That undeniable look.” Mr. Roberts sighed again and put his hand on Mr. Raven’s shoulder. “Consider this a pleasant diversion for the night… but when the night ends, so does this… whatever this is. After all, we’re too old to keep pace with these budding youths.” He took another glass of wine and walked away, leaving Mr. Raven with his thoughts.
“Too old.” He pulled at his cravat irritably. “I wouldn’t consider thirty years too old…”
He was suddenly very aware of himself. He looked towards Sarah, brow furrowed.
It would be rude to leave without wishing her a goodnight, he thought. But… perhaps I shouldn’t bother. After all, her father is still looking quite cross.
He was contemplating his escape when a large man crossed his path.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Raven said. His breath caught when he looked up. “Oh, Mayor Pemberly. Good evening.”
“Mr. Raven.” He nodded curtly. “You have been enjoying yourself, I trust?”
A bead of sweat traversed down the nape of Mr. Raven’s neck. “Indeed, yes. And you?”
Mayor Pemberly took a step closer, closing the gap between them. “I must be honest with you, Mr. Raven. I would enjoy myself much more if my precious daughter was not the target of so many flirtations.”
Mr. Raven’s hand twitched. “Mayor Pemberly, I can assure you that our foray on the dance floor was nothing more than — ”
“Enough.” The Mayor looked him dead in the eyes. “She will have her fun tonight, but make no mistake, Mr. Raven; my daughter is just that: mine.”
Mr. Raven’s brow furrowed, but he bowed his head in compliance. “My apologies, Mayor Pemberly. I meant no disrespect. If you’ll excuse me, I was just on my way out.”
“An excellent idea.”
Mr. Raven swept away from the Mayor, sweating and fidgety.
Why was he so upset? He thought. Surely, he wishes to marry her off, to have her continue the Pemberly legacy.
Mr. Raven was just through the front double doors of the Roberts Estate when he heard the shattering of glass and an ear-splitting scream coming from the ballroom. He whirled towards the sound. Before he opened the door, a squelching sound came from below and he looked down; his boot had landed in a puddle of red liquid that was steadily growing in size.
It was difficult to tell what had happened through the buzz and commotion in the ballroom: some running frantically for the door, nearly trampling Mr. Raven, others gathering around the spot where the stain began. Mr. Raven fought his way through. He reached out and grasped Mr. Roberts’ shoulder, pulling himself away from the stampeding crowd. Mr. Roberts turned to him, his face slumping in despair.
“What the hell happened?” Mr. Raven cried above the din.
Mr. Roberts shook his head heavily. “See for yourself.” He grabbed Mr. Raven’s arm and dragged him into the circle that had formed around the body on the floor.
Mr. Raven stepped back, his shoe crunching over glass. He recognized the body immediately, despite the front being soaked in blood: Mayor Pemberly. “Heavens above…” He turned to Mr. Roberts, hand rising to his mouth. “Is that sick on his shirt?”
Mr. Roberts shuddered. “I think he’s been poisoned, but no one claims to have seen the culprit.” His face was paling with every word. “This… this is going to destroy me.”
Mr. Raven strong-armed him away from the scene. “No, it will not! How could anyone blame this on you? Where were you when it happened?”
Mr. Robert’s pointed a finger shakily towards the front of the room where the band had been playing. “I was over there, conversing with Mrs. Cumbershaw, when I heard that terrible scream…”
“There you have it. You have someone who can confirm that you were not near the Mayor when this happened.”
“So they won’t imprison me. But no one will want to come again. No one will want to dance in this cursed room. Rumors will spread! Maybe they’ll think I hired someone — an assassin. Or that I conspired to be rid of the Mayor so I could take his place! I’ll be ruined! I’ll be —”
Mr. Raven clapped a hand over Mr. Roberts’ mouth as his voice rose. He leaned in very close as he whispered, “If you continue that kind of panicked nonsense, you will be suspect! Now listen to me.” He looked around carefully before continuing. “You need to contact the guard and have an investigator come in. Many have already fled, but there are still enough people here that there may be a witness.” He removed his hand from Mr. Roberts’ face and turned back towards the grisly scene, catching a flash of red from the corner of his eye. “Oh no…”
Mr. Roberts turned as well. “His daughter.”
It appeared she was backing away.
Mr. Raven looked at Mr. Roberts. “If she leaves now, they’ll suspect her! Quick, what’s her name?”
“You didn’t even ask for her name?” He waved his hands. “Nevermind, nevermind. It’s Sarah!”
Mr. Raven rushed after her just as she slipped out of sight. He slid on the red wine near the door and hit it hard with his shoulder, but continued on. He raced out the front door, down the steps and stone walkway towards the open gate. He saw the figure of Sarah Pemberly racing down the snow-covered street, dress dragging behind her, slowing her escape.
She did not seem to hear him.
“Sarah! Sarah Pemberly!”
She stopped. As he approached her, she stayed still, never turning towards him. Mr. Raven slowed as he struggled to catch his breath.
“It is unwise to run away right now. If you leave before the police can do their investigation, people will think you have something to hide.” He waited for her to respond, but she said nothing. “I know it’s hard to face something so terrible. But please, let me take you back, before the bobbies arrive.” He reached out and grasped her wrist, as he had inside the ballroom.
She slowly turned to him. Her youthful face, which had been alight with a smile less than a quarter of an hour before, hardened. “Why don’t you think I did it?”
Mr. Raven’s hand slipped for a moment, but he quickly renewed his grip. “You don’t seem like the type to murder her father in a room full of witnesses.”
“Does that mean you would think it was me if it was an empty room?” Her glare was cold and unwavering.
“No! No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just — your father, he’s the mayor.”
“Yes, and I think — you probably had a good childhood — and if you hadn’t, why wait this long to kill him?”
Sarah’s brows narrowed.
“Dammit, I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I just meant — never mind. It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the investigator thinks. So I’ll say it again: let me take you back.”
Sarah’s wrist went limp in his hand. She nodded shakily. When he released her, she wrapped her arms around herself, shivering.
Mr. Raven’s expression softened. He removed his tailcoat and draped it over her shoulders. “You’re cold.”
“I forgot my shawl,” she murmured, pulling his jacket about herself as closely as she could.
Mr. Raven’s arm moved to put about her shoulder, then fell back at his side. He resolved to offer her his arm for support. She took it gratefully, and it was then that he noticed she was limping.
“You’re hurt!” he exclaimed, stopping short.
“No, it’s not that, I just lost my slipper, when I was running…” Her cheeks flushed. She poked her bare toes out from beneath her voluminous skirts.
“That foot must be frozen! We must cover it with something.” He looked at her outfit, then his own. “Ah. Here.” He untied the cravat from about his neck. “We’ll use this.” He knelt down on one knee before her. “May I?”
Her face turned an even brighter shade of pink, but she pulled her dress up a slight bit to allow him to wrap her foot.
When he finished, he looked up at her; she was so young, so innocent. He had an impulse to kiss away her tears. He shook it off. He rose to his feet again and took her arm.
They walked through the gate, up the walkway, up the small stairwell, and through the double doors. He felt her shudder as they neared the splattered blood and vomit on the floor. He stopped and turned to her, letting his back shield her from the prying eyes of others.
“You needn’t go any farther. No one would fault you for not wanting to be near… him.” His words trailed off. He tried again. “Besides, when the police arrive, they’ll want you to identity the… him.” He rubbed at his eyes in frustration.
“Will you… will you stay with me?” she asked, glancing down at her wrapped foot. “Until they leave? I’m not sure I can face them alone.”
Mr. Raven’s body tensed, every rational fiber of his being screaming no.
If I arrive late, there will be another murder to investigate.
He spared a glance at her face.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong! You’re doing it all wrong! How many times do I have to tell you?” He pushed down on the child’s tiny shoulders until they buckled under the weight, forcing them into a chair. “This. See this? It belongs on your cheeks. And this? It goes on your mouth.” He breathed out heavily. “When are you going to get this right?”
The child shook as tears fell.
“Stop that at once! You’re going to smear it all over your face!” His hand came crashing down onto the table in front of them. “Remember what I told you? Do you remember?”
The child nodded.
“Tears only slow us down. Now, wipe your eyes. Let’s try again.”
Mr. Raven came home very late that night, wine stains on his shoes, a missing cravat, a tear in his waistcoat from a scuffle that had happened once the police had arrived, and his long, silver hair, normally kept so neat, was damp and disheveled. He opened the front door, closed it behind him, and leaned against it for a long moment.
“Cirius, is that you?” came his wife’s voice from the living room. She bustled into the hall. “Gracious, do you know what time it is? Why are you so late!” The angry look on her face melted away when she saw him. “What happened?”
He pushed a curtain of hair away from his face. “There was… a murder.”
“Heavens…” Sophie clutched at her collar. “How terrible… How did it happen?”
Mr. Raven shook his head. “The guard and the investigator came, but no one recalled seeing anything of suspicion. He was poisoned. Some guests had fled before the officials arrived, so there are still people to interrogate. As of right now, no one knows what really happened.”
Sophie twisted her hands together anxiously. “Cirius… the children…”
Mr. Raven pulled his wife into his arms. “Not to worry, my love… No one else was hurt. This was very deliberate, planned. They targeted the Mayor. Perhaps he had enemies.”
Sophie buried her face in his shoulder. “You should have come home sooner. I was so worried.”
Mr. Raven lifted her chin. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to wait up. I just couldn’t leave until we settled everything. The bobbies wanted to ask everyone questions, and Mr. Roberts was on the verge of hysteria. You understand, don’t you?” He kissed her gently.
She blinked up at him. “Yes. Yes, I do.” She made to pull away, but he held on tightly. “Cirius, it’s late…”
“I know. Which means the children are fast asleep.” He kissed her again, with purpose. “Wasn’t it you who said we should take advantage of every free moment we have?”
Sophie blushed. Honey-blonde hair spilled onto her cheek. “I — I suppose I did.”
Mr. Raven stepped back for a moment to kick off his boots. “What better moment than this?”
“But you’re tired, you’re wet — ”
“Right you are,” he replied, pulling off his coat and tossing it into a nearby armchair. “And only you can make that better.”
Sophie’s flush deepened into a rouge. She fiddled with her hair.
Mr. Raven pulled her into him again. “You still turn pink when I flirt with you, just like the day we met. Do you remember?”
“Yes; like it was yesterday.”
His eyes wandered from her for a moment, a flash of red in his mind. His eyes snapped back to Sophie, and he conjured a smile.
“Are you alright?”
“It’s nothing, I was just — recalling some of the night’s events.”
“I see.” She pulled away from him slowly, allowing him to cling.
“It’s alright, Cirius. I knew the events of the night would upset you. Another time.” She slipped away from him and made her way up the stairs.