Fiona Vivian Conners sat in the worn seat of the carriage, being jostled this way and that until she felt that her head would split in two. She stared out the window, falsely admiring the autumn scenery while trying to avoid the gaze of her orphanage mother.
"Sit up straight child." Demanded miss Evensbee. Her voice had always sounded like a cat screeching.
Fiona obeyed, not making eye contact.
There was a whinny from the horses. The old carriage came to a squeeling stop, and out the window Fiona could see a strange bronze gate set in the way. It was covered in dials and gears and pulleys, made of various colored metals.
"Hoy! Anyone home?" Shouted the driver.
A loud creak resounded through the cab as all of the little parts on the gate started turning, steaming or spinning. The curious contraption swung open with some difficulty and much complaining.
"Well I never!" Miss Evensbee said, obviously flabbergasted.
She got a glare from the aged woman. She returned her gaze out of the window, where she got a small scare. There was a boy, off in the woods, watching her intently. He was probably 75 yards away, so Fiona was unable to see him clearly. She could just make out his funny looking hat when the vehicle moved forward.
They traveled only another mile through over-grown pine forest before they came to another marvelous sight. A clearing of about 3 acres was laid out before them, with the cobblestone driveway coming to a round about in front of the castle. Well, it was a castle to Fiona- she had never seen anything but the shaggy suburban houses of London. To a modern girl it would have looked like a scruffy abandoned plantation house. The structure itself was in great disrepair, but that was possibly made it more beautiful. It was built of stone, it seemed, in a great array of hues. Sea green and coral and lilac and others that could not possibly had had names yet. A large front walk way led up to a pair of French doors carved with elegant floral designs inlaid with silver. The grass was well overgrown and weeds sprouted up in the flower beds that lined the whole building.
The cab came to another stop and they all climbed out. Fiona was enchanted. She felt like this was one of her story books that she would stay up past bedtime reading. This was the castle, she was the princess, and should would eventually find her price charming. If only-
The girl's thoughts were cut short by the opening of the massive doors. A tall handsome man stepped out of them and came down to meet the couple.
"Mr. Conners." The lady said sourly.
"Harriet." He acknowledged, looking just as displeased. The woman gasped, terribly offended.
"Well i see that you have most CERTAINLY not changed." Scanning her, he retorted, "Neither have you, to my dismay." He turned to Fiona. "Look at you. Dear girl do you remember me? Uncle Glover?"
"Don't bother with that one. She hasn't spoken a word since her bitch of a mother passed-"
"Watch your tongue." Hissed Glover.
Miss Evensbee indignantly turned on her heel and got back into the carriage. The cabby handed Over Fiona's only bag, gave a word of apology and a wink to the girl, and climbed back up into the seat.
The uncle and niece watched the buggy drive off.
"I hate that woman." Glover mumbled under his breath. Fiona nodded. The headmaster was a fat, wrinkly pig, as the girls at the orphanage had decided. Miss Evensbee never said a kind word, gave a compliment or had ever loved anyone but herself. She was sour. Always stuffing her face while the girls got barely enough to keep from looking sick. Fiona just wondered how her uncle knew her...
Mr. Conners ushered the red-headed girl into the mansion. They came into a large foyer, the walls peeling with cream colored paint. A single mahogany coat rack stood dusty and unused to the right. Next they came to a sitting area, with couches that looked ahpolstered in gold thread and natural fibers. A fireplace roared, the orange flames fighting back the nippy October air.
A woman scurried down a flight of stairs that lined the left wall. She was tall and lean, with sandy blonde hair and wild green eyes. Her dress was a mosh posh of fabrics that trailed out behind her.
"Ah! Miss Fiona ! Dear girl, what a pleasure!" The woman embraced Fiona like they had been friends forever. "My name is Miss Edihoth Favier, but you may call me Edith."
She held Fiona out at arms length, scrutinizing every detail. "Well aren't you a pretty thing! But dear goodness, what a dull dress! Uniform I suppose? Have you got any other clothes?"
Uncle Glover put a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Let her breathe, Eddy. And no, she's only got one bag. Show her her room. I'm going to get some coffee."
He smiled at Fiona, a sad smile, and she realized how tired he looked. "Don't worry, she doesn't bite." He said reassuringly, motioning to Edith.
Fiona was whisked away to her bedroom by the ever chatting Nanny. The room was fit for a princess. A queen sized bed dominated the middle of the area, with real Ivey vines growing up the posts and forming a canopy above. The walls were painted with a lovey mural of a romantic garden full of blooming daisies and golden-rod, forget-me-nots and purple roses. The ceiling was covered in a million stars that almost seemed to twinkle...
Edith showed Fiona her closet that was filled with dresses made by the nanny herself. The girl put on a long emerald gown that had creamy lace at all hems. Fiona twirled and smiled, not being able to remember having worn such a fine garment. Edith seemed quite pleased.
After being shown the lavatory, Fiona was left to herself. She paced the room for some time, admiring the mural on her wall and the jewelry in a case on the mahogany dresser.
Although extraordinarily pleased with the situation, Fiona couldn't help but wonder why she had been suddenly taken away from that hell-hole of an orphanage in dingy London to this fairy tale mansion owned by an uncle she had only met once.
Fiona's parents had been extremely Wealthy when she was first born, inheriting a great sum of jewels and gold when her grandfather Edward the Fifth had passed away. They had all of the luxuries of the time, including a mining business run by her father Alexander Conners.
The little happy family was even more joyed when a baby brother came into the world when Fiona was 3 years old - Calvin. Everything seemed perfect....
~14 years previously~
A little red headed girl sat on the edge of her mother's bed, silently weeping over the dying body of the pale woman.
"Fiona - my darling...." Began Mrs. Conners, her breath coming in short spurts.
She closed her eyes and smiled. "I love you sweet heart. I want you to listen to your papa and be a good girl. Here - this is for you."
Little Fiona sniffled and wiped her green eyes. Her mother held out a shaky hand. A golden key inlaid with a single black opal hung from her finger tips on a blue ribbon. "This darling - this is a very special key. Maybe you'll find out why someday."
Mrs. Conners' eyes drifted to the ceiling as she went into a hysterical coughing fit. It subsided suddenly. Her arm slipped out of Fiona's hold and fell limp on the bed. Alexander kneeled next to his dead wife, burying his face in her dress. The woman doctor, who had silently watched the whole ordeal, gently escorted Fiona out of the room, giving her over to the nanny. Fiona held the key to her heart, careful not to lose this piece of her mother.
Things went down hill from there. Mr. Conners turned to drinking and gambling. He drained the family's wealthy and his business eventually went bankrupt. Although he never hurt them, physically or verbally, Fiona and Calvin were taken away from him and raised up by Nanny Annabeth. When the sweet old woman died, Fiona was given away to the girl orphanage, and Calvin went to the streets. Her father was in an insane asylum, and her uncle at the time could not take them on. Seven years to the day, the girl had been in that horrible place. Now she was free - from backbreaking chores and cramped living quarters, from abuse and London sicknesses. She was free from all of this and possibly more. If only she knew how much she was going to have to sacrifice for this freedom.
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