My dear Eliza, as I am sure you could imagine, if you were possessed of any sense of compassion, I had been in a state of acutest agitation since I had taken my leave of Sir John. Indeed the torment was so severe that I had scarce noticed my aunt informing me that we were to call upon the Winterbourne’s that very evening. You are sufficiently familiar with the young Lord George to understand how very shocking my lack of attentiveness was, for usually mention of this particular beau’s name is sufficient to cast me into the hysterics. Yet my aunt had spake it thrice afore I was quite roused from my thoughts.
“Cecilia, pray child, what it the matter?” Enquired she when she found my sentiments at the invitation greatly wanting.
“Forgive me aunt, I have something of a headache.” Returned I in a manner which was very nearly truthful save for the part that was not.
“A headache? I shall wager you t’was that fragrant balm at church this morning. I have told that parson above thrice that the burning of such an abundance of that putrid vapour is beneficial neither to the health nor the soul, yet he is all insistence that we cannot worship unless we can scarcely breath in all that stuff.” Was her vexed reply.
“Perchance if I might be permitted to retire?”
And sans awaiting a reply I fled from the parlour and hastened to my to my bed chamber. When I had gained that sanctuary I fastened the lock and began to pace back and forth as though I awaited dreadful tidings of a beau lost at sea. As I took my fifth turn about the room I drew the parchment Sir John had thrust upon me from my netted purse, whither I had placed it and had been keeping about my person e’er since, until I resembled a duchess who is wholly convinced that she will be robbed at any moment at the hand of her own son.
I unfurled that wretched paper and read it once more. Eliza I know not if you have ever had the misfortune of endeavouring to read a secret parchment from a clandestine brethren while pacing, but allow me to assure you it is not a task which is lightly undertaken for it can render one quite vertiginous. The parchment in question, once opened, proved to reveal an invitation as elegantly penned as any to a ball among the very highest ranks of society. Yet the occasion was not one so very filled with revelry for it was simply a summons to the quarters of the guardians of the mysterium.
My dear friend I cannot tell you how longed to declare the whole matter laughable, to tear that page to ribbons and cast it into the fire. However there was a part of me (doubtless t’was the part which has read such an abundance of novels) that would not permit it. It spake in my ear of the inexplicable phenomena that are seldom explicated and of the likelihood that Sir John was not a prevaricator. Soon it became apparent to me that it was entirely necessary to prove it to be folly in order that I might forget the whole affair as I have forgot the Bartlett’s ball.
Thus I returned the parchment to the netted purse from whence it came, danced behind the oriental screen (Eliza you must remind me to shew it to you, for you will be enamoured with it) and evanesced through the priest hole. It is in truth everything fortuitous and convenient not only that that happily coincidental priest hole in my bed chamber should lead to the stables, but also that Samuel the stable boy could be so very easily suborned into aiding me. Plainly he has no notion of the true value of buttons.
He had soon readied the little grey mare and diverted the coachman’s attentions as I secured my veiled habit and rode from the courtyard in as silent a gallop as I was within my power.
It struck me as strange, Eliza, that Sir John had so lamented the arduous task of finding me when the Brethren’s quarters were no more that an hours ride upon very pleasant country. Tough it took above two to reach it for the directions had been written so ill they were nigh on nonsensical.
I halted the mare before a church which appeared quite abandoned. Had I been a proficient in the study of architecture I would indubitable have described it as Gothic, however as I am not I shall say t’was sinistrous. For it’s very vastness seemed to grow from the great rocks from which it was hewn.
My terror at the prospect of entering a place so direful was lessened by my being greeted by a footman. Indeed I was all relief that such a polite convention had not been neglected, and though his livery was of a hue so black it spake only of misdeeds it was everything elegant in nature.
Once within I came to understand that the church without was merely the vestibule, for the rest quarters had indeed been carved from the rocks above. Yet despite this I was pleased to note, as I followed the footman, that everything within had been pleasingly arranged to afford every comfort to its occupants (Eliza, there was enough brocade and gilt to pease even you). At length we came to a parlour so large I could scarce see both ends at once.
“Gentlemen, Miss Cecilia Harcourt.” The footman was all gracious introduction as he bowed so low that I feared he may catch his nose upon the floor.
As he retreated I stood and looked upon the room which appeared entirely devoid of gentlemen or indeed men of any kind, it was wholly empty. However afore I was presented with an opportunity to enquire wither they may be there came, from the crepuscular recesses of the chamber, above a dozen gentlemen all dressed in monks habits as black as the shadows from whence they had stirred. Indeed the only thing that rendered them remarkable was a crest embroidered over their hearts. However it had been fashioned in silks so very intolerable that the garments were quite distasteful.
“Miss Cecilia, we are surprise at your coming. Sir John was not wholly convinced that you were wholly convinced.” Spake one, though which I could not tell as their hoods were drawn above their heads.
Afore I had departed I had devised a multitude of questions I had wished to cast at Sir John, however now that I was hither I found that they had all fled my head with improper haste. The sole enquiry within my power was this;
“Indeed, but perchance you would be so good at to explicate, why?”
“You, Miss Cecilia, are the appointed. Long ago …”
As he commenced his sermon, however, I lost not a moment in ceasing it in a manner which will indubitably shock your sense of propriety.
“Indeed, Sir John has acquainted me with your prophesied foretelling, however my aunt is expecting me by and by, for we are promised to the Winterbournes to dine and her ladyship is not easily passed over.”
I felt quite sure that they regarded me with particular astonishment, not on account of my boldness, but that we counted the Winterbournes amongst our closest friends. But as I could not see ‘neath their hoods it was impossible to be quite certain.
“Let us continue under the pretence that I find myself inclined to believe what really ought be a fantastical charade, I am desirous to know the particulars and the consequences these particulars shall have.” Said I.
“Miss Harcourt, it is now your fate to cloister yourself away from the world and the diversions that claim your attentions. You must dedicate yourself instead to becoming as fearsome a fighter as any captain in the King’s own militia. From this day forth your purpose, your destiny, is to battle the demons, the undead and the phantoms that threaten to cause destruction to rain down upon us all.” The speaker, who had been the fellow in the centre, unsurprisingly, then drew an elegantly bound volume from his robe. “This the text of the prophecy. When we heard of our partiality for the novel we had it transcribed in a fashion more suited to such an item. The prophecy contains the legends of the appointed and her foe, as well as some truly charming drawings. The water colours are, in truth, very pleasing.” There was a murmur of ascent from the gentlemen.
However afore I could be enraptured by the watercolours the gentleman directly before moved his hand so very swiftly hat it was as though he were a master of the slight of hand and a moment later a sound, a description of which I can scarce offer, save to say that it was as though a pack of above seven and forty hounds were quarrelling over a sweetmeat hat an heiress of high birth had carelessly dropped. It was soon joined by the sound of footsteps, of a tread of so heavy that it was as though one hundred ill bred churls had been coerced into marching in time.
As these sounds grew louder I was all a tremble, nigh on overwhelmed by terror at what could be the cause of such very dreadful dread. I was kept in this state of expectancy, my breath quite baited, for longer than can be considered wholly polite. For it would seem that the possessor of those feet was not peculiarly inclined towards haste.
When at last it stepped into the illumination of the candles I was filled with a horror of such profundity it could be rivalled only if my aunt consented to my betrothal to Mr West. Eliza, I know not how to recount it, for what stood before me was neither man nor beast. Yet it appeared to bear likenesses to both. I feel quite certain that it’s complexion was of a hue that would have been better suited to the rocks above and I believe that whither one would expect to see ears there were horns. However beyond this I cannot say. The creature stumbled forth as though he were a beau quite determined to ask for my hand in a quadrille and I was upon the very brink of screaming in a fashion greatly lacking in decorum, when there came from my right a glint of light as a sword was cast at my feet from I know not where. While I was strongly desirous of scolding whomever had shewn such want of care in throwing a blade and thereby imperilling me, the creature appeared the more urgent concern and I collected the weapon from the ground. As I stood before it, my hands all a flutter upon the hilt of the sword, I found that only one agreeable solution presented itself to me. And so it was with considerable abandon and elegance that I permitted the delicate hysteria to overcome me and cast myself decidedly into a faint.