Sunday, 11 November 2012

two : Lady Eris

As soon as she said his name, something dark and heavy seemed to land on Arthur’s shoulders. His knees went weak and his head felt fuzzy.

This was one scary lady.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur muttered, dredging his voice up from the murky depths of his fear. “There was no-one to meet me at the train station in Nottingham. This man with a lorry-full of sheep gave me a lift to Lowdham, but then I had to walk the rest of the -”

“In,” she said.

So, in Arthur went. The door slammed shut behind him.

Even though it was nighttime, it was somehow darker inside the house than it was outside. A couple of murky-looking lamps struggled to illuminate a long, high hallway. It was nothing like the houses in London - not like the ones he’d ever been in, anyway. It was big and quiet and reminded Arthur of being in a church. But not the friendly kind where he went with his parents every Sunday. Here, there were no welcoming smiles. Just a wide, sweeping darkness.

“I’m going to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Devon,” said Liam Wilshaw. He, Mark Cooper and Arthur all picked their way along the Commons Road, winding themselves between piles of bricks and rubble and bits of houses.

Arthur looked up at the library as they went past. Yesterday, he’d been in there, looking through the adventure novels. Today, it had no roof and one of the walls was missing. Burnt, blackened books were strewn across the street.

Still – the sun was shining and nobody had picked on him since…. well, yesterday. So, for Arthur, things were good.

“Wow, Devon! That sounds ace,” said Mark. “That’s where they make ice-cream, you know.”

“I know,” glowed Liam. “That’s all they eat, down there. Ice cream for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, ice cream before bed-time… I’ll probably get given a big bowl of it as soon as I get there.”

“My dad’s friend is totally important at the war office,” Mark said. “I bet I could ask him to get me sent to Devon, too.”

“Oh, yeah, that’d be brill!” Liam wore a massive grin that matched Mark’s. Arthur walked on behind, all but unnoticed during this plan of evacuation and desserts.

Unlike the other two, Arthur still had no idea where he would be going. He could only hope it was somewhere where he’d get given a bowl of ice-cream when he arrived.

Arthur’s teeth chattered uncontrollably as he stared up at the dark, towering figure that was glowering down at him.

“Get used to the cold. You are forbidden to put on any heating in this house,” the tall woman said to Arthur in a hard, impassable voice. “You will sleep tonight. Tomorrow you will begin work. Every day, you will clean, tidy, cook and wash. You will not speak to me unless it is absolutely necessary. You will stay out of my room. You will stay out of the drawing room. All other rooms are your responsibility to clean. Am I making myself perfectly clear, Arthur Ness?”

“Yes, Lady Roberts,” said Arthur, “But, I…”

“I am not Lady Roberts,” she said, annoyance crawling all over her voice. “You will call me Lady Eris.”

“I’m sorry, Lady Eris,” said Arthur, lowering his eyes to the floor, confused and embarrassed.

“Do you have any questions?” she asked. Arthur forced himself to look up at her. She was really very pretty, he thought, but in a dangerous, cruel kind of way. She reminded him of the creatures he’d read about in ancient Greek mythology – Sirens. Beautiful creatures on the outside but nasty and evil within. Her strong jawline and long, black hair framed dark eyes which pinned Arthur to the spot. He was petrified, unable to move. She had on a long, black dress – so long, her feet were hidden from view. Arthur wondered if she even had any feet.

“Let us be perfectly clear, Arthur Ness,” she said, looking down her nose at the boy, “I do not want you here. It was the previous owners of this house, Lord and Lady Roberts, who volunteered to take in evacuee children from London. Despite my objections, I was unable to have you sent elsewhere when I… took over.”

Arthur nodded, his gaze never leaving his feet. He wished those Roberts people were here now – they, at least, sounded kind.

Arthur shuffled from foot to foot, unable to settle or calm himself down. Then, quite suddenly, a chill swept right through his body – incredibly, he felt as though Lady Eris was looking into him. Into his brain, into his mind. It felt for all the world as though she were spreading his thoughts out like a newspaper on a table and flicking through the pages at her leisure. And then, just like that, the feeling passed and Arthur felt alone in his head once more.

He looked up at her to see a horrid, satisfied grin across Lady Eris’ face and he knew just what she was thinking. He knew because he was thinking it too;

You’re scared of her, scaredy-cat. Really, really scared.
So scared, you’ll do exactly as she says. You won’t cause her any trouble.
And she knows it.

Lady Eris unfolded a long arm and pointed a slender finger up the stairs.

“Your room is the first on the left,” she said. “Mine is across the way, up in the tower. Never go there.”

Arthur looked up towards where she was pointing. When he turned to look back at her, he was startled to find her face just inches away from his.

Never,” she repeated, “go there.”

Arthur nodded, mute.

But, then – strange… her hair, Arthur thought… close up, it almost looked like lots and lots of pieces of straight, black…


Lady Eris returned to her full height.

“Go. Unpack. Sleep,” she said. “Tomorrow, you begin.”

Without waiting for another word from her young houseguest, the scariest woman Arthur had ever met turned and went into the drawing room – one of the two rooms Arthur was already banned from.

As the door to the room swung slowly open, Arthur caught a glimpse of something inside – the biggest, most elaborate tapestry he had ever seen. Okay, he hadn’t seen many tapestries, but this one was…well, huge. A great piece of material, like a wall-mounted rug. It stretched from floor to ceiling and was made entirely from multi-coloured cotton threads, woven in and out to make a huge picture.

Actually, Arthur noticed, this one was lots of little pictures, all connected to each other – from one end of the weaving to the other. But the pictures were too small for Arthur to make out at this range. All except one. The picture of a small, black cat.

Arthur wasn’t sure why that one caught his eye. Maybe because it looked kind of different from the other images – a different style. The cat was looking off to one side. Very enigmatic, Arthur thought. Impressive. Mysterious.

A drop of rainwater plopped off the end of his cap and landed on his nose, making Arthur sneeze.
When he looked at the cat again, Arthur was somewhat startled to see that the cat was…well…
…looking back at him.

And - click - the door closed, leaving Arthur standing in almost total darkness.

With a sigh and a shake of his head, the young Londoner picked up his heavy bag and suitcase. Exhausted. Scared. Not thinking straight. Clearly, he’d looked at a different picture the second time. Clearly, it hadn’t actually moved. Clearly, he needed sleep.

And so Arthur trudged up the stairs, his case banging on each step as he went – and he found himself wondering if Mark and Liam were eating their ice cream right now.

<<< one : the big house at the end of the village three : out of the tapestry >>> 

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