Arcadia

Arcadia

Status: In Progress

Genre: Other

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Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Other

Houses:

Summary

Peter Marten is eager to go to university in the big city, but soon finds himself swept up in a decades-old conspiracy and a plot to overthrow the king of his adopted country.
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Summary

Peter Marten is eager to go to university in the big city, but soon finds himself swept up in a decades-old conspiracy and a plot to overthrow the king of his adopted country.

Chapter1 (v.1) - In which Peter Marden arrives in Arcadia

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: June 03, 2017

Reads: 33

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: June 03, 2017

A A A

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As he opened the door of the station, the great city of Halcastle yawned — warm, steaming, and slightly pink from the setting sun. The marble facades of the ducal residences on the Augustine Hill caught the light and glimmered, bright white points on the lushly green hill. The young man had been traveling without rest for a fortnight and now outside the train station he stood perfectly still as the world moved around him.

"Hey! You! Quit standing in the middle of the road!"

A surly porter shouted, too quickly to be understood, and he did not look like he would abide the young man digging out his phrasebook and fingering through its damp pages to form a response. The young man picked up his satchel and hurried out of the way, back to the sidewalk.

He found a bench, away from the constant stream of people and carriages and carts, and sat down to rummage; he rummaged through his vest pockets, his coat pockets, his small carry-all, his large satchel; he rummaged in his overcoat pockets, and though he turned up many treasures (a choice piece of candy, some particularly attractive lint), he did not turn up those very important papers. He was beginning to mutter untranslatables a bit too loudly for the comfort of passers-by, when he remembered that he had put the important papers in his satchel's hidden pocket, which he reserved for important things like this, and subsequently hardly ever used. But the papers were safely nestled inside, and he sighed, relieved.

That pocket held his whole life in Halcastle — his Bueffican passport and Arcadian travel approval, the university acceptance letter, and the address of a Mrs. C. Spencer of Montrose Lane. The papers, once so crisp and promising, were now soft where they had been folded and refolded many times by nervous hands.

"Hey! You!"

The young man looked up. He was not in the street anymore; who was yelling now?

"Yes! You! Peter Marden!"

A tall man approached him, grinning.

"I know you?" Peter asked.

"I sure hope so; I've got your picture here!" The man held out a slightly worn, but impeccable photographic representation of Peter's face. He remembered having to sit impossibly still for it, all the way back in Bueff, only to have his mother mail it away.

"Are you... are you Mrs. C. Spencer of Montrose Lane?" Peter was puzzled.

"Yes! Well, no," John laughed, "But you are Peter Marden? From Bueff? I'm Mr. J. Spencer, of Montrose Lane. Or you could call me John; that's shorter. Mrs. Spencer is my mother." 

John held out his hand to shake, but Peter had already dropped his bags and raised his hands for the traditional Arcadian hand-clap greeting he had read about. They stood awkwardly for a minute, Peter's hands above his head, until John laughed and jovially slapped him on the back.

"Where did you learn that? What am I, royalty?" Peter was hurt; all that practice on the sea voyage was proving useless. "Well, no— I mean— I see you've read up on Arcadian culture, for what that is worth. We'll get you settled in; you'll fit in soon enough."

"Er, yes. Good!" Peter smiled as John loaded his baggage into a waiting cab.

***

The true Mrs. C. Spencer — known to those on Montrose Lane simply as Caroline — looked through her spectacles with furrowed brow at the foreign young man before her and then at her son John, who had eagerly unloaded this stranger and his luggage into their parlor. Though she was expecting a young man from Bueff, she was unprepared for him to be so hard to understand.

"You are Anton and Johanna Marden's son?" Caroline skeptically ventured.

"Yes, yes. From Bueff!" Peter smiled.

Caroline thought back on the letter she had received two months before. It had arrived on a Saturday, by special delivery. She did not recognize the sender's name, but the handwriting was familiar. Johanna Marden wrote fluently, spelling out the family’s predicament in petite, slanting cursive. Peter Marden had been accepted to the university, but Arcadia was a foreign place, so far from his home, and could the Spencers find it in their means to look after him and keep him safe? Though the Mardens were such a distant relation — the second cousin of Caroline's aunt Josephine — Mrs Marden wrote that she had known Caroline many years ago, and knew that she could be trusted. Caroline did not remember ever meeting a second cousin of her aunt's, and did not understand the obsession with keeping Peter (the Marden's only son) safe from this unspecified danger, but the enclosed silver coins were convincing enough that, on the appointed day, Caroline had sent John out with the photograph to the train station.

"Your parents — they are from Arcadia? Your mother's letter was so... fluent." It was hardly believable that the author of that letter could have a son who struggled to make basic sentences. Mrs Marden had written that Peter needed to work on his Arcadian, but also that he had many years of tutoring and was a quick learner.

Caroline bit her lip and frowned. The young man certainly had a resemblance to her late aunt. He was odd-eyed like a white cat, as was everyone on that side of the family.  Yet her aunt was a Marten, before she married, not a Marden. John sensed his mother’s confusion.

"Mum, I'm sure I picked up the right man at the station. Look, he looks just like the photograph they sent!" John waved the photograph again. It showed a circumspect young man, eyes wide, his light, curly hair combed back — undoubtedly Peter Marden, although the Peter in front of her was not so clean and proper.

"Johnny, Johnny, I see; obviously he is Peter Marden. I just — I do not know why—"

"Oh, the photograph —" Peter suddenly remembered. He hunched down on the floor over his satchel and began throwing tattered papers and notebooks onto the floor. He grabbed the spines of notebooks and shook them, scrabbling through the loose pages that floated out. John chased after a sheet caught in a draft, and noted with amusement that it was covered in scribbled poetry and sketches of seascapes. Peter looked up and snatched the paper from John with a glare.

Caroline bent down and extricated from the pile a small, polished wood box with a silverwood inlay of an egret on its lid. She looked at Peter with wide eyes, no longer doubtful. Peter clapped his hands together with excitement.

"There it is!" He took the box and snapped open the lid. Inside was a creamy white envelope embossed with the emblem of a Lundhaven photographer. Peter slid a piece of thick card from out of the envelope and turned it over to show Caroline the photograph pasted on the other side. She took it eagerly from him with both hands and held it close to her eyes in the fast-fading light. It was only a common portrait of the Mardens — Peter and his father stood in the back, with his mother and sister Sabine seated in front of them.

"Your family?" Caroline ventured.

Peter nodded. "Is a gift for you, from my mother."

Caroline put a hand over the smile that was breaking across her face. She held the photograph tightly, not taking her eyes from it as she told her son, “Johnny, show Peter to the spare room. Peter, you have had a long journey. Rest now, and then come down for dinner.”

***

John helped Peter carry his bags up the staircase to the spare bedroom. He dropped the last bag by the bed under the window. Peter surveyed his new home; it had a washstand, a small desk and chest of drawers, and a soft-looking rug. The window opened onto the Spencers' back garden, where Caroline's daughter was cutting hydrangeas. There was a brass bed tucked under the window.

“I am sorry it is so hot up here. In the winter, though, this is the best room in the house!” John pulled out the desk chair and sat down. "So."

"So?"

"Do you need help? With unpacking?"

Peter shook his head. "I have only the few things."

He sat on the floor and unlocked his large trunk. He pulled out shirts, trousers, waistcoats and stuffed them into the chest of drawers next to the bed. He piled the papers he had unpacked before next to the desk, to be sorted through later. His silk cravat and his new leather boots were put away with more care. He hung his overcoat on a peg on the wall. Then the most precious things out of his satchel, wrapped in tissue: a bottle of ocean-blue ink, his best fountain pen, and the journal with marbled endpapers went onto the desk; a bar of mint soap his sister had made went on the washstand, next to an enameled shaving mug and the stiff boar's hair shaving brush. Finally he retrieved a book from his satchel and placed it on his pillow.

John watched Peter carefully arranging these possessions. "So we're cousins, I hear?"

"Yes, second cousins, I think. Through your aunt?"

"Grandmother," John corrected, "She and my grandfather adopted my mother. But the rest of the Martens... we've never really met them... I mean, well, you would know better than I do."

"Know what?" Peter loosened his cravat and undid the top button of his shirt.

John rubbed the back of his neck and looked sheepishly at the floor. "Well, the Martens, they're blue-blooded, not like us."

"Oh, right," Peter nodded in a hopefully convincing manner and made note of yet another bizarre Arcadian idiom that he would need to research later. Luckily a gentle rapping at the door interrupted them and saved Peter from bluffing through any more conversation. John opened the door to a young woman who carried a pitcher of hot water.

"Oh, Peter, this is Agnes, she's our housemaid."

Agnes dipped into a curtsey. She poured the steaming jug into the washbasin and went out again.

"I'll leave you to dress for dinner," John said as he hurried out and closed the door behind him.

Peter wriggled out of his suspenders and peeled off his damp shirt. He surveyed his body in front of the mirror, a cool evening wind blew in the open window across his naked backside. He was covered in sooty grit that he attacked with a hot, soapy cloth. He thought about what John had said as he scrubbed. His veins branched under his skin — pale blue, it is true, but no more blue than any other's.

He spread a thick lather over his cheeks and shaved. With the last stroke over his jaw, he winced; a trickle of blood ran down his neck. He pinched the cut until the blood stopped, and drawing away his fingers, he laughed. Bright red, of course, as if there was any doubt.

"Blue blooded," he scoffed. "These people are so strange – my blood is red as anybody's!"

***


Caroline sat in the drawing room with the portrait nestled in her lap. By and by, she would turn it over to read the names written on the other side, and delicately trace her fingertips over them as she read them to herself.

"'The Mardens: Anton, Peter, Sabine, Johanna. Lundhaven, February 29, 1880.'" 

She sighed woefully and turned the photograph over again to look at the Marden's faces, pressing her handkerchief to her lips.

"Mum!" John came into the room and immediately fell to her side, "Are you unwell? What's wrong?"

"What? Nothing!" Caroline bolted out of the chair and set to finding a place to put the photograph on the mantle. She turned her back to John and wiped her hand across her watery eyes.

"Please tell me what is wrong."

"I was only trying to look at this photograph, but the light is so terrible in here. And where are my spectacles? I had them right here and now they are gone!"

Caroline left the photograph face down on the mantlepiece and began a frantic search for her spectacles, picking up all the objects on the various tables in the room to look behind and under. She sniffled loudly.

"Were you crying?" John put a loving hand on his mother's shoulder. She brushed him off.

"No, I am not frail, Johnny. What are you doing in here, anyway?"

"I heard — I thought I heard sobbing."

"That is ridiculous."

The dinner bell rang and John dared not to press the matter any further. Even mothers were entitled to eccentricities.

***

Peter had fought to stay awake during dinner; two weeks of rough seas on the passage to Arcadia and two days of rough rails in from the coast had left him short on sleep. Now that he was in a bed that didn't sway, his thoughts rocked and reeled, leaving him nauseous. He felt battered by many waves: sadness, fear, confusion, even a light mist of happy anticipation. Here he was, in the heart of Arcadia, the country of unbridled opportunity, and he was proving his father completely wrong.

When Peter had told his father of his plan to go to the University in Halcastle, he had refused even to entertain the idea. It was too far from home, too foreign, too dangerous. Peter would be happier at the college in Lundhaven. He could learn everything he needed there. Whenever Peter tried to talk to his father, to change his mind, his father would not even speak to him. Peter knew he would have to get his mother’s help. 

He remembered the day he brought the idea to her. They were out in the backyard, on the first warm day of the last year’s spring, and he had helped his mother bring the rugs out for beating. When he told her of his desire to study in Arcadia, she had stopped her work and looked past him with the fierce glint of determination that Peter had only seen a few times in his life. When she looked at him like this, with her eyes narrowed and jaw set, he knew that she was already scheming and that it would only be a matter of time before he was on that steamship. And indeed, she had convinced his father, and took him to the photographer’s, and arranged his new lodgings. And then she had given him the box that she had always kept next to her bed, and told him to keep it safe until he could give it to Mrs. Spencer. She told him that the box the key to his happiness in his new country — but this was only a metaphor, of course, because Peter knew that in the box was only the family photograph.

Peter stopped reminiscing and sat up so he could look out the window. The Spencer's house was bigger than his house back on Bueff, but not as nice, he thought. In the back garden he could see a plot of vegetables and a pergola with hydrangeas and ivy, and the narrow alley that separated the Spencers' from the neighbors. There was no outhouse; all the houses here had waterclosets inside.

He could only see half as many stars in the sky as he could see in Bueff. A halo of light enveloped the city that only the highest and brightest stars could penetrate. He looked for constellations but couldn't see the familiar ones; perhaps they were too low in the sky.

Across the river the black silhouette of the eastern hills rose above the city. At the crest of the Palatine Hill, Peter thought he could make out the outline of the king's residence, Casmer Palace. It had been designed to be visible from any point in the city, but that was before Halcastle had spilled across the banks of the Hal and the Mering and surged several miles downstream. He reached under the bed to get his copy of the city guide, which contained as much gossip about the dukes and counts as actual information on getting around. With the Arcadian-Bueffican dictionary he had made good progress and was now entering a chapter on the Duchy of Laddington. He looked from the book out the window — could he see the Duchess' house from here? It was exciting to be so close to royalty. But the guide said a thick wood covered most of the hills, keeping the ducal residences insulated from the rest of the city. 

Peter soon found that it was too dark to read, certainly when he closed his eyes, which he was having difficulty avoiding. And so he fell asleep with the book on his chest.


© Copyright 2017 K. R. Krater. All rights reserved.

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