November’s Writing Workshop: The Arrival
It’s time for the second writing workshop. It’s a slightly longer one this time, and is the opening to a story I was writing a while back. Leave your feedback in the comments below, and I will summarise in a post later! Enjoy…
The trees across the ridge scratched black scars against the blue-black sky. The light – a bulb of glowing golden-green – trickled along the side of the ridge below the line of trees. Between the ridge with the bobbing globe and her own light was a long swathe of grass that hissed and whispered in the breeze. She held her lantern aloft, its glimmering gold beam pooling around her feet and illuminating the side of her face. Behind her, with its own light glowing from its windows, the house stood – certain, solid and grey-black against the night. As she moved from foot to foot, the gravel ground and crunched beneath her, and she watched the orb of light move along the ridge, eventually swinging down to approach her across the grass sea.
The scudding clouds trailed above, straggling wisps of glowing blue – the moonlight reflecting silver against them. The moon was low, behind the house, and gleamed dully. She shifted her feet again, as the light disappeared and reappeared in the undulating, whispering grasses.
The light grew, revealing itself to be a swinging pair of lanterns on the front of a black carriage. A pair of horses – one black, one bay – snorted and tossed their heads as they pulled the swaying carriage on to the wide gravel space in front of the house and came to a halt.
She stepped forward, before hesitating. A crouched shadow shifted and extracted itself from the bulk of the carriage, leaping down and muttering soothing tones at the horses that stamped impatiently.
The cold air smelt of the horses sweat, of leather and animal and fear. The figure, silhouetted from behind, tipped his hat back, revealing a pale oval face, with dark holes where his eyes were. She swung the lantern, and his eyes suddenly glittered out of the dark like pieces of glass. He observed her for a moment – this tall woman with her plaited rope of hair over one shoulder, dark breeches, green shirt and high black boots; so unlike a lady should be.
Without a word, he turned and opened the door of the carriage. There was a pause, when even the rushing night clouds seemed to hesitate, and then out stepped a tall silhouette. His boots gleamed in the thin lights, his cloak swishing to his ankles, and his white shirt glowing brightly.
“Arianna?” he asked, and his voice split the night.
“You had better come inside,” Arianna responded, turning on her heel and not waiting to see if he followed.
The oak door was studded and pitted through age and groaned heavily as she pushed it open, revealing a flagstone entrance hall, with a wide staircase sweeping upwards, and doors upon doors leading in to the recesses of the house.
Arianna’s boots clicked on the stones, and she set the lantern on a table before turning back to the man. He stood in the maw of the door, black and white against the blue-black night, gloved hands touching in front of him and sharp chin jutted forwards as he looked up. She followed his gaze to the sagging glass chandelier.
“You’ll find the house warm enough,” she said. “I expect you will want to rest after your journey.”
The man looked at her. “I will.”
Arianna started to walk away, but he cleared his throat and called after her.
“I want to… thank you. For taking me in.”
She didn’t respond, but disappeared into the depths of the house, leaving the man shivering slightly in the front hallway. A cough behind him alerted him to his companion standing there.
“Terribly sorry, sir,” the driver said, coughing again. “I can’t stay, see.”
The man hurriedly dropped a few pennies into the waiting hand. The driver, without a backwards glance, launched himself on to the carriage and flicked the reins to urge the horses on. Taking a wide, crunching sweep of the gravel drive, the carriage lurched away down the driveway into the undulating grasses once again.
The man was left alone in the echoing front hallway. He was certain he could hear voices and movement further inside the house, but didn’t know from which door the noise came. He pulled off his gloves and looked around. His trunk had been abandoned at the doorway, but he had no direction in which to go.
All at once there was the hurried sound of footsteps, doors opening and closing, and then a square of light appeared on the flagstones as one of the doors was flung open. The person that scuttled through, banging the door shut behind, could hardly be described as human. For, though it was human-like in appearance for the most part, its movements and twitches were quite unlike anything the man had seen.
The creature was short, this fact accentuated by the hunch of the round shoulders and the cocked angle of the head. Curling red hair sprouted from the crown of this head – a head that seemed perfectly spherical – in every direction, and created a peak from under which two bright eyes peered and a beaked nose jutted rudely. The bowed, shortened legs were at stark contrast to the long, thin arms, which seemed to extend from the shoulders like angled branches, the shirtsleeves bagging loosely around them. The bent head curled into a concave chest, again terribly thin, a sharp chin on sharp collarbone.
The newcomer wasn’t sure how to react when this little redhead scuttled up to him, wringing his hands – long, dextrous fingers with swollen knuckles and bright purple veins – and peered up at him cautiously through his cap of red hair, tilting his head like a bird in order to do so.
“Now you, you must be the master Lucas,” said the creature. His voice was strained and high, with a whistle on every S, each word chittered excitedly in rapid succession of one another.
The newcomer nodded soundlessly.
“Good, good. The mistress said to expect you, she did indeed.”
The little red head hopped and bounded to Lucas’ trunk, and scooped it up with apparently great ease for such a frail creature, and clutched it tightly. “I am Camlin – that’s with a C – Camlin. Butler, servant, handyman, if you will. Please, please follow me. Your quarters are not far!”
And off Camlin went, trotting up the stairs, the trunk thrust out in front of him like the prow of a ship. Lucas followed helplessly, glancing behind him at the hallway being left behind.
Two staircases – one so winding that Lucas lost all sense of direction – and a long, green-carpeted, mahogany-lined hallway (filled with stern-looking portraits and delicate vases on unsteady tables) later, Camlin stopped at a door. It matched every other door they had passed, but this, it seemed, would be Lucas’. Unsure how Camlin managed it with his hands so preoccupied with the trunk, Lucas watched the door swing open to a room already prepared for a guest.
There was a small fire in the grate, the drapes pulled across the window, and the sheets of the large, squat bed that occupied most of the floor were pulled back. On a small table sat a silver tray of tea and toast – the teapot steaming dreamily and a glass pot of strawberry jam like a splash of blood on a wooden background. A tub with hot, steaming water sat before the fireplace, smelling of summer evenings, and a bright green towel on a stool next to it.
“There’s tea, yes, and toast, yes,” Camlin trilled, dropping the trunk with a thud by the bed and waggling long, bony fingers at the table. “And a bath, Master Lucas. Nice and warm!”
Camlin bobbed a tiny bow as he dashed for the door, slamming it shut behind him, and again leaving Lucas alone. He took a deep breath, taking in the bed, bath and tea in one brief glance of the room, before stalking to the window, parting the drapes, and looking out. The plain of grass swept before him in a colourless sheet.
“Well,” he muttered. “I am here at last.”