The gray in the sky dipped above leaving streaks of sunrays flowing through the clouds that touched the green mountains and further. On them walked a solitary lad; his hands tucked in his pockets while he had his head bowed not looking at anything in particular. His young face twisted into knots of worry while his eye black and thunderous contemplated the previous evening. Nicholas Harrison still couldn’t stomach the idea of being left alone at home while everyone left for the fair in the city. London was a place that he wanted to see again and again but he lost the chance just as he lost many other things all along. He willed himself not to cry; though tears filled his eyes making him even angrier than he was back earlier. If only he hadn’t fought with Paul, then he would have been with his family but now as ever he would go home alone. A home, which he couldn’t even call his home. He found a stone standing as solitary as him just a few steps away and walked hurriedly towards it so that he could ease that pain in his calves because of walking so far. He didn’t have to shade his eyes to look at the town house that stood proudly so far away from him. The twinkling lights seemed to mock him, as did the knowledge that he had no right to think about Avrolo’s house as his own.
A sob escaped his throat.
No he was and will be alone for all his life and no…but no one would cry over his grave.
“Nic’lous!” a voice, tiny noise that made him brush the single tears off his cold cheeks.
The fierce expression was still there when he saw the little creature climbing over the stones and stumbling over to come to meet him.
“Cristina!” he shrieked at her.
Damn it but the little girl who wasn’t even eleven yet was making his life hell.
“Nic’lous! Whatcha do’ng ‘ere?”
Her voice was still very faint to his ears and to his irritation he found himself looking at her and waiting for her to join him. He checked himself in time and this time yelled properly at her.
“This is bloody nuisance Cristina!” he bit out savagely and heard a short scream.
Damn It! He muttered to himself. One day she was going to kill herself before he even blinked his eye once.
“Nic’lous! I’m falling!”
“No you are not!” he told her in the same fierce voice when he saw that she held on to a tiny stone while he legs were tangled up in a twisted way that seemed reluctant to come out.
“Help Nick!” she cried.
“That’s Nicholas for you”, he muttered.
“Ahhhhhrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhh!” she cried out loud enough to burst his eardrums.
Damn Americans! He cursed and bodily jerked her for the stone and heard her cry out again. His whole body was already filled with rage that he didn’t pay heed to her pain. He just wanted to remove her from there and tell her to get the hell out of here.
“It hurts Nic’lous”, she wailed softly.
In the dark he couldn’t see her face properly but he knew how she looked like. His hands unconsciously went to her soft skinny cheeks where he found were wet with tears.
“Don’t cry now”, he cooed softly, all his rage and energy that filled with it seem to drift away so quickly that he wondered a second about it.
Slowly, as if it was his heart that was on risk he untangled her legs and pulled her. At the same time Cristina put her arms around him and clutched his body like a vice, crying softly. He patted her back softly not trying to pull her way. It wouldn’t do anyways. Cristina did what she wanted and right now she wanted to cry. He understood. After all she was another who was left behind.
He almost felt stupid now, feeling pity towards himself while he should be thinking about this little girl whom he had to take care while everyone were away.
“Now why are you crying?” he asked, his mouth almost touching her dainty ear. She stopped crying at that time and gave a huge hiccup and pulled herself to face him.
“I saw ghosts”, she confided to him.
She nodded vigorously and then again buried her face under his chin.
“You ‘eft me”, she said.
He groaned suddenly. Slumping on the ground with her clutching him to tightly. Wondering why he always would be a part of Cristina he placed his hands on her shoulders and removed her away from him.
“You were supposed to be sleeping”, he chided.
“But the ghosts came”, she answered on another hiccup.
“There, there now”, he said softly, “You are not to cry princess”, he said on a smile that came right through his heart and lighted his eyes.
“Come on I’ll take you home. You should be sleeping right now. Not climbing mountains”.
“Yo’ were climbing’”, she pouted her pretty lip at him.
He gave her a slight innocuous pull towards him and made her look at him, eye to eye.
“You are not to climb again. Do you understand Cristina?”
Her mouth trembled again and she looked like she was going to cry again.
“Why did mama go away?” she asked suddenly.
“Your mama is coming back tomorrow”; he told her in a colorless voice and then took her hand in his walking almost without her permission, dragging her out of here.
But her feet took her where he took here, “Why didn’t they take me?”
He grunted something and kept walking.
They climbed downwards, slowly because of her and then because Nicholas was so tensed and angry himself because of the subject he wanted to be alone again.
“Arvolo don’t like ye”, she kept on talking unaware of the stiffening of his body, “Is It ‘cause Paul fought with yo’? He told me…”
“I know what he told you”, he said gruffly, hauling her body against him and walked faster than ever.
Right now he didn’t want to discuss this topic with anyone especially with Cristina who was the main root cause of the fight.
“But ‘e tried to kiss me. Yuck!” she shuddered and because of the darkness didn’t see Nicholas pale visibly.
“He is just a boy”, he said, trying to reason out with himself.
“A boy! Why Nic’lous ‘e is sixteen!”
“And you little miss Muppet are ten”, he reminded her.
They were close to the town house now and Nicholas felt relived that they wouldn’t be discussing this any further.
“Why didn’t you let me tell mama this?” she asked. The porch light focusing on her brazen red hair
“You are not telling this to anyone Cristina. Never”.
Her eye that shone in green emerald stared hard at him, “Yo’ will get beaten agai’, won’t yo’?”
“Damn it girl! Get inside and go to bed”.
He pushed her inside and was going to close the door when she caught his hand almost convulsively, “Are yo’ goin’ agai’ Nick?”
He nodded, “Now go to sleep and…”
“Don’t go! The ghosts, yo’ see? They will eat me”.
“Cristina…”, he began, weary of taking care of her for the whole day. He had been listening about these ghosts since the day she came to live here and it bothered him too much to care for her.
Oh yes he had come to care for her and what would that lead to? As far as he knew all the people he cared about left him one by one. First his mama and now his papa, whom he couldn’t even call his papa.
“Are you goi’ back t’ mountains?”
Bitting back a really ferocious oath, he slammed the door behind him and swept the little girl in his arms, carrying her to her room upstairs. For a boy of eighteen he was mighty strong and though his face and body already showed the signs of a little boy, there were certain lines and creases on his face that somehow made up for that face that he was already a gown up man.
At last when he reached her room, he pushed the door open with one big foot that was bounded by heavy leather boots. The noise was enough to make the whole house echo with it. He stared right at the huge white bed and without looking at her, he laid her gently on it. The light was still on in her room and the way her small bonny body looked made his heart awash with tenderness.
He smiled, unable to help himself, “Now sleep, will you?”
She shook her head, “The ghosts will come and…”
“There are no ghosts princess”, he said, this time in a voice that was filled with a certain emotion that he rarely did with anyone else.
He turned to leave when she caught his hand. He sighed and turned, “Yes?”
“Oh yes”, he said and pulled the heavy blanket up to her chin while she blinked her huge green eyes at him, “How forgetful of me not to think about It, no?”
He touched her nose fleetingly and smiled again when she giggled and closed her eyes, snuggling into the sheets, her hair tumbled across the pillow framing her face. He found himself looking at her little smile playing around her pouting pink lips and the nose that had a significance of its own. It was long and beaky and just right for her heart shaped face. Simultaneously his eyes went to the little body that was under the thick blanket and he frowned when he thought how little she was. She needed the love that he always hungered for. But somehow, his own little princess should get the love that she deserved.
Just the thought of her being engaged to Paul at such a tender age made him so angry that he could almost taste his rage again.
He bent to her innocent face and found a drop of a tear fell on her shinny white cheek. He let his finger clean it away from her while he whispered almost secretly in her ear, “No ghosts will plague you my princess. Count on me”.
A sharp slap across his face and Nicholas fell outside, on the porch. His eyes never flinching from the sixteen-year old boy neither did he raise his hand to touch the sting on his right cheek.
“You bastard! You can’t even clean a simple boots of mine and you yourself wear that expensive boots. Why have you stolen them my lad?”
Fisting his hands, Nicholas tried to get up, still gazing in his eyes with open hatred, “Neither am I a thief nor am I a lad, Paul”.
“Paul! Don’t call me Paul with that filthy mouth of yours. You may as well call me Mister Bennington. Yes”, the boy said, his handsome face looking ugly because of that nasty smile, his cold blue eyes darting proudly at him, “Get up you Bastard or have you no guts to fight?”
“I’m not a bas…”, he began when he saw Avrolo behind him, his face itched with lines of worry when he looked at what was going on.
Looking at the old man with the same equal hatred, Nicholas admitted, his tongue rolling with disgust, “Aye Paul I’m a son of a bastard”.
“Nicholas!” Avrolo choked on his name calling him back with desperation.
But Nicolas didn’t stop, he walked on and on without looking back. for a while he wanted nothing to do with Avrolo, Paul and the new mistress.
Blinking his eyes, Avrolo raised his inquiring eyes at Paul. Knowing Paul for the past year he knew that this was one spoiled brat that he cease all happiness in his house. At sixteen, Paul had blond wavy hair that attracted everyone towards him and his eyes so blue that one might never want to look away. But when one did look at him, there were traces of such malice that one might even shudder. Just as Avrolo did just now.
“Cris was singing his praise this morn dad and I didn’t like a bit. She is mine”.
“And that’s It?”
Paul glared at him, his blue eyes narrowing, “That It! It will be years till I convince her that she would a Bennington and that bastard will spoil it all for me”.
Even though Paul wasn’t his son, but the son of his new wife Avrolo did want to mind the title but each time he looked at the hurt in Nick’s eyes, his own heart and eyes filled with guilt. He could never give what Nick wanted.
“Perhaps you could go riding this morn, Paul”, Avrolo suggested, shading his eyes from the sun, “Take the brown one”, he warned,
“Why not the black one?”
Because It’s Nicholas! He wanted to shout. And just then he heard the sound of clip and clop of a horse racing through the woods. He wished it wasn’t what he was thinking. Paul heard it too…and saw too.
Midnight, the beautiful black horse passed through them and on It sat Nicholas, his own back hair flying as if a part of the horse.
“That…that…”, Paul spluttered in anger and ran towards the ground shouting all types of curses that shocked Avrolo to his core.
Just then Cristina came out running, “Avrolo! Is that Th’ ‘orse?” she asked, her freshly cleaned face shinning in the sunlight and full of joy. But the joy faded when she heard the angry spluttering at the horse rider.
“Why that’s Nic’lous!” she exclaimed in delight running towards the ground and screamed when Paul shouted at her too.
“What are you doing here? Get inside!” Paul shouted at her.
“Let go!” she cried, “Let go!”
The horse stopped right in front of them. Avrolo saw the face of Nicholas becoming thunderous as he saw how Paul was almost dragging Cristina inside the house, holding her by her hair. He could have shouted and put stop to It at once but he didn’t. he found himself looking forward to what Nick would do. Already his little niece, Cristina was crying pathetically and her voice called ‘Nic’lous’ so many times that he could almost see the pained expression on Nick’s face.
“Unhand her Paul!” his voice boomed and suddenly he sounded and looked very much a boy of eighteen years.
Paul’s hand froze as he looked at him and Avrolo felt like shouting ‘hooray’ at that fearful expression on Paul’s face.
“Leave her or else you are going very, very sorry”, Nick slowly drawled.
Paul jerked her and Cristina almost fell on her feet but just in time Nicholas bent and with single hand pulled her in front of him. But his eyes never left Paul’s.
“Touch her again and I’ll make you cry so hard that tears will dry up in those cold blue eyes of yours”.
Paul became indignant at once , “We are engaged”.
The cries of Cristina became more pronounced when she heard that and she wept against Nicholas chest that almost drenched his shirt with tears.
“Not until she is eighteen Paul. And not until you have a seizeable amount to feed her mouth. Till then mister Bennington she isn’t yours”.
Raising his finger as a salute, Nicholas raised his horse, shouted his command over him and rode away into the woods again.
By that time Paul ran into the house, almost murderous to any eye if one would see him and Avrolo got the proof of It when he heard precious vases and mirrors being smashed in the house back. but Avrolo couldn’t help the feeling of pride when he saw the faint image of Nicholas and Cristina on midnight. He was perfect and he wished…
Suddenly he couldn’t bear it. A thoughtful smile played across his lips while he went inside his house and repeat the command to Paul not o destroy the house that would be his once he was of age. Oh, he would get the house right…but not before he made something out of Nick.
“Now listen up princess”, Nicholas said in the most commanding voice, “You will not show me tears again regarding Paul, Okay?”
Nodding vigorously, Cristina smiled at him with almost blinding hero-ship eyes.
“And you will not be alone with him. If I’m not around”.
Again she nodded vigorously.
“That’s settled then”, Nicholas said and leaned back on the stone. He yelped when he realized that the stone was still hot due to the sun.
“Are yo’ hurt Nick?” Cristina asked, her hand cupping her chin while her eyes looked at him with strangely matured eyes.
“Hurt? Aw no! the stone is damn hot”, he said.
“Paul beat yo’ hard, did ‘e?”
Nicholas silently regarded the girl sitting opposite to him and then looked away. Moments passed way, he didn’t feel like talking nor did she talk. Nicholas was almost awed by the understanding that Cristina showed by not pursuing the matter further. He found himself almost content sitting with her and looking far above, across the moors surrounding the town house. Greenery! There was everywhere and flowers of all colors surrounded them.
He was just beginning to smile when he found Cristina was staring at him, rather than looking elsewhere.
“I won’t marry ‘im, Nick”, she told him and from the way her eyes glittered with determination Nicholas didn’t think she was kidding.
To his surprise he found himself agreeing, “I don’t want you to either”.
“But then you are going to”.
She asked again and there was desperation in her eyes, in her voice that made his heart ache.
He got up abruptly facing the moors, his back to her, “It’s what your parents wanted. And after some time, you will find that you want the same”.
He waited for an argument.
He got none.
Instead he found Cristina’s small hands encircling his waist and resting her head on his back. He stiffened in response of her innocent act.
“Mama didn’t come back today”.
“She will in the evening”, he assured her and found his voice going hoarse.
Midnight snorted and raised two if his front legs gracefully.
“It’s time to go Cristina”.
She didn’t budge an inch, “He is cruel and jealous”.
“Jealous?” he chuckled, wanting to lighten her mood, “What do you know about it?”
“I know a lot abou’ It”, she assured him back, her voice full of melancholy, “If only I could make everything the way it was before”.
“Lets not talk about it”, and even though in his heart he knew he should talk about It to her, he didn’t. Somehow the thought that Paul was going to claim her when she would be eighteen made him feel almost numb with pain.
And then it hit him and he groaned.
He turned suddenly, making her jerk back in surprise. His hands steadying her automatically. She shook her hair, unconsciously leaving that red hair flowing on her shoulders while her green eyes lifted to meet his black ones.
God she is beautiful!
A real princess.
On impulse he picked her up again but this time his heart was drumming seeming loudly even to his ears. He placed her on midnight and climbed on him himself.
She leaned behind him and closed her eyes, “I wish we could always be like this”.
He wished the same and was going to tell her when he saw Paul riding up at them, a whip in his hand and before he knew what happened he it hit him and heard Cristina scream again and shielding her in his arms almost joining her body to his, he galloped midnight and then towards the town house.