I gave him a warm smile and said, “I thought I was the one who was supposed to be hiding.”
He pulled the blanket down to get a better look at me, and I saw he was wearing clothing much like the costume my brother had on downstairs. He had blond curly hair and a round tear-streaked face. I quickly pulled out a handkerchief from my sleeve (her ladyship had told me it was proper to have one on hand) and gave his face a quick cleaning while assuring him everything was going to be all right. That was when I noticed his skin was quite cold. “Oooo… you’re frozen, come on. Let’s get closer to the fire,” I insisted and helped move him, blanket and all, closer to the fireplace.
That was when he gave me a great big smile and said, “You’re very kind. Who are you? Are you a fairy?”
I laughed. “No, and I’m not an angel either,” I told him. “My name is Lisa, I’m staying here with my parents and my godfather, Nathan Steward.”
Immediately, my new friend perked up. “Nathan? He’s here? He’s all right?”
“Of course. He’s the main reason his lordship invited us to come stay,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t he be all right?”
The boy’s face clouded over as said, “He… had an accident last time. My sister…” here he began to sneeze and fall into a coughing fit.
I gave him my handkerchief and let him blow his nose. “Oh, you poor thing, you have a cold don’t you?”
Well, that explained why he was up here all by himself. Especially as it had occurred to me that I hadn’t seen him downstairs earlier. Still, someone should have been keeping him company, instead of leaving him all by himself up in this old room. “Are your parent’s downstairs at the party?”
My young friend shook his head, “They’re dead. My uncle is watching over me and my sister. She’s a grown up, like you.”
I had to laugh at that. Both my parents and Nathan would tell me that I was all grown up one moment, and would then turn around and start treating me like a kid the next. Go figure.
Anyway, things were beginning to make more sense to me now. No doubt he had come with his Lordship’s many siblings. Still, it seemed odd to leave the little fellow all on his own up here. Then again, there were other children to watch over downstairs, and I didn’t doubt one of his many cousins were coming to check on him regularly. Probably, one or more of them had been up here with him when the call to start the games went out, and they went downstairs while he took a nap up here. This made sense, since I did find him under a blanket.
Then I smiled thinking that once the others found my ‘hidden’ location in here, we’d have a lot of company. Still a part of me began to wonder what he’d meant about Nathan having an ‘accident’ last time.
Just then the boy leaned up against me and I held him tight. He seemed much more relaxed now, and was smiling more, so I chose not to ask about what happened. Besides, I’d seen Nathan bounce back from injuries before. Hell, he’d even recovered from being decapitated just a few years ago. So I had little doubt that whatever had happened had seemed more terrifying to my young friend than it really had been.
I could hear the sounds of my ‘pursuers’ echoing through the mansion, through the door to the room, and quickly excused myself to close it. After all, I didn’t want to make it too easy for them. Then I went back to the fireplace and wrapped the boy in my arms. He hugged me back as we gazed at the fire together.
“My sister and I used to sit before the fire like this for many an hour,” he sighed wistfully.
I frowned. “Let me guess, she felt she was too grown up to do it anymore?” I asked, suspecting she didn’t have as much time for her little brother these days. Especially if she was in her late teens as I was guessing from his earlier comparison of her and me. No doubt she was more into going to malls or raves these days.
“Oh, no,” he told me. “She’s mad at me. Or at, it seems like she’s always mad at me.”
My frown deepened. “Really? Did you break something of hers, or get her in trouble somehow?”
He shook his head. “Not to my knowledge.”
I rested my chin on his head, thinking. “Is this a recent thing?”
The boy nodded. “It started shortly after our parents died.”
I mentally nodded. Losing both your parents could lead to the children either becoming closer than ever, or tear them apart. Especially in the case of the older children, who may suddenly feel like a great burden of responsibility has been thrust upon them. They may feel obligated to grow up faster and would either rise up to the challenge, or feel overwhelmed or even cheated of their youthful pleasures and become resentful. Still, he’d said their uncle was watching over them. Could there be some resentment on that front from his sister? Did she want to be the grownup only to find her brother was turning more and more to their uncle? It was hard to say, and having just met my little friend, I didn’t think it was right to pry too deeply. Instead, I asked a totally different question.
“I just realize, I never asked you your name?” I remarked, giving him an embarrassed look.
“Reginald,” he smiled back. “Thank you for being so kind to me, Lisa.”
“I do my best,” I told him.
From beyond the closed door, I could hear the others calling my name, but I didn’t want to leave Reginald, even for a moment. For some strange reason, I was feeling more and more protective of him. Like something would happen if I did leave his side, even for the slightest second. So I didn’t respond and spent the next half hour talking with Reginald.
I soon learned that he and his sister had been quite a bit closer than I’d originally thought, even after their parents accident. But then they began to drift apart. His sister, Madeleine, began having fights with their uncle. Exactly what these arguments had been about, Reginald did not know at first. But then, Madeleine had appealed to him to talk with their uncle about their mother’s jewelry and how it should be hers by right, to do with as she pleased.
Something about the way she’d spoken to him had been worrying, so he’d asked if she had planned to sell them. At that point she’d raised her voice and began scolding him for such horrid thoughts and how he was sounding just like their uncle. From then on things between them began to deteriorate. Several times she’d called him weak and foolish because by rights he was the rightful heir. He was now the lord and their uncle was only acting as a guardian until he came of age. She told him how he needed to grow up and take charge, that she needed his support but he was too cowardly or ungrateful to help her.
I felt my grip tighten on him as he spoke, wishing I could do something to help. But then he told me how Madeleine had become nicer again recently. She’d even apologized for saying such hurtful things. Perhaps it was the season that had made her more thoughtful, and yet… somehow he was a little afraid of her.
Upon hearing that, I said reassuringly, “Let me talk to her, and to your uncle. I’m pretty good at judging people. I might even get your sister to open up and tell me what’s really been going on.”
A look of relief swept over Reginald’s face, then quickly vanished by one of alarm. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Nathan tried to talk to her and…”
“And that’s when he had that ‘accident’ you mentioned earlier,” I finished for him. “She got a little violent with him?”
My young friend simply nodded, but there was a haunted look in his eyes which worried me. Still, I couldn’t let things stand the way they were. A part of me kept thinking about my own little brother, Geoffrey and how important he was to me, in spite of occasionally being a pest and a brat. But if we had lost our parents like Reginald and his sister had, I’d be an overly protective mother-hen as well as a big sister to him. I had no idea how good I’d be as a ‘mother’ figure for him, in fact I’d probably make a lot of mistakes, but I’d still love him no matter what. And I had no doubt Madeleine loved her brother still as well.
And as for getting rough with Nathan, he’d never mentioned the incident to me or my parents. So it couldn’t have been that bad. Perhaps, what Madeleine had been resentful of yet another man trying to tell her what to do, like her uncle had apparently been doing.
“I think Madeleine might actually appreciate talking to someone her own age who’s a big sister like her,” I told Reginald. “And if things do get a little out of hand, Nathan and parents are here and they always watch out for me. Especially if I tell them the situation before I approach your sister.”
That seemed to reassure him as he smiled and let me put him in a chair near the fire. I made sure he was bundled up, and got him to promise not to go anywhere till I got back. After giving me his word he kissed me on the cheek and said, “You’re so nice. I think Madeleine might listen to you. You treat me the way she used to, and I very much wish for things to be like this again between us.”
“I’ll do my best,” I assured him and left the room. As I passed through the adjoining room and into the hallway, I realized I didn’t hear any of my ‘pursuers’ calling out my name. Assuming that they’d given up and had gone back to the party I quickly made my way downstairs.
When I reached the second floor, I realized that everything had gone quiet. There were no sounds coming the main hall downstairs where the party had been taking place. “This isn’t good,” I told myself and hurried down the rest of the way. Upon reaching the bottom the silence was even more obvious than before. The only sound I could hear was the crackling of the fire from the other side of the doors to the hall, which were now closed.
Feeling more than a little anxious I went to the doors and opened them. The hall was completely empty. The decorations, the tables covered in food and drink, were all still there. And I noted that a considerable number of presents had been added underneath the tree, and the fire was still burning in the fireplace, but aside from me there seemed to be not another soul in the place.
Then I remembered his lordship had mentioned holding mass over at the chapel on the grounds. No doubt that was where everyone had gone off to. Still, it was strange that no one had come looking for me… oh! That was why people had been calling my name earlier. They hadn’t been trying to trick me into revealing myself, they had wanted to tell me to come to the chapel with them.
Feeling more than a little foolish, I headed for the front doors. I grabbed a heavy woolen cloak that went with my outfit and tried the doors. They were locked!
TO BE CONTINUED…