Friday, October 19, 2007
Trust & Treachery *NOT* a Story by Jane Austen
Ladies, Gentlemen, Fans of Blog Fiction:


El Capitan and I are ready to publish the first two chapters of our co-written novella. First, you need to know that the rules have changed a bit.


We are taking turns writing the chapters under a Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie premise. In El Capitan's very charming description: "Imagine the Bennet sisters crossed with Lucretia Borgia on a bad hair day."


We are still aiming at 1,000 word chapters, though we aren't being terribly rigid with the numbers. We are attempting to write a chapter each week. And, we are not holding ourselves to a merely five or six chapter story (which has been the norm). Instead, we are opting to keep writing so long as it is fun and the story is still being told. As such, posting will be sporadic but it will also be a regular feature for a while.



Without further ado...



Trust & Treachery

*NOT* a story by Jane Austen



Chapter 1

(by El Capitan)



Jane Steele pushed the bench back from the pianoforte, smoothing her full skirt over the layered petticoats as she stood and stretched her cramped muscles. Two hours practicing Haydn and Chopin was almost enough to take her mind off the hateful piece of correspondence that still lay crumpled in front of the door.


Almost, but not quite.


Jane could hear her sisters whispering in the adjoining parlor. Doubtless they were still discussing her unfortunate overreaction to the courier's message. She would never admit it publicly, and of course would never debase herself by apologizing to the courier in person, but she did regret hitting the man with the vase. Some might take the lapse in manners as as sign of poor breeding. Jane was more concerned at the moment with how long it might take to ship quality porcelain out to the estate, not to mention the extravagant cost involved.


Her satin slippers glided over the silken rug as she contemplated the crumpled linen card and envelope by the entryway. The crimson ribbon and extravagant wax seal on the envelope somehow in her mind's eye resembled Charlotte Brandon's lips and outstretched tongue, pulling a face at her from afar, still mocking her long after they had departed Mrs. Pickett's Finishing School.


It wasn't just that Charlotte had stolen Sir Percy's attention and devotion. Men were easily led astray by harlots, Jane thought, and Charlotte was known for putting her tongue to other uses besides facial insults. Even the thought of missing out on 20,000 crowns per annum didn't bother her as much as she thought it would. Rich men would always desire an attractive wife, and Jane knew her own worth. Another offer would be forthcoming once word spread that she & Percy were no longer an item.


No, it was the loss of access to Percy's family that irked Jane the most. His mother's kin were chockablock with wealthy merchants and shipping magnates. Parvenus, to be sure, but these days titles were just as easily purchased as inherited. Once, there might have been a stigma to having achieved wealth through one's own labor, but the Old Guard of Society who achieved position and power through inheritance were growing scarce. Nowadays, income and estates measured a man's worth much more than a title granted a century or two prior.


With her mother dead this past decade, and Father an invalid having no more than a handful of years remaining, it fell upon Jane to ensure the future security of her sisters. She had all but handpicked husbands for Lucy, Sophia and Julia from amongst Percy's uncles and cousins. Lucy was not a problem. Bright, witty and vivacious, it would be no trouble finding a suitable match. She only had to keep Lucy from doing something foolish, such as accepting an offer from a penniless Ensign from the Royal Guards.


Sophia would be a harder match. Against all Jane's pleadings and remonstrations, she insisted on constantly burying her nose in books instead of learning the social graces. She was an accomplished singer, though you had to twist her ear to get her to perform most times. Her saving grace was a figure any man would desire and most women would envy. That alone might guarantee her a husband with at least 5000 crowns income and a small freeholding.


Julia? Julia might be a problem. Jane had hoped once the ravaging forces of adolescence had passed, Julia might blossom into a lovely flower. So far, she mostly resembled a disheveled turnip. Still, with an extended network of marriages and influence ready at hand via the sprawling family of Sir Percy Fitzhugh, Count of Nuovo Cumbria, even a dumpy girl could land a husband with an acceptable income.


But she no longer had that extended network to count on, did she? Jane bit her lip in consternation as she stalked to the entryway.


Jane started to stoop to retrieve the paper, then thought better of it and ground them under her heel. The absolute cheek of sending her an invitation to the wedding! As if she'd attend the nuptials of a faithless lover and a childhood enemy. It was only Percy's perfectly ridiculous behavior that kept him the focus of derision, and ensured that Jane's reputation did not suffer from the rejection of one so much higher in the Social Lists.


The slow burn of anger overtook her, and she strode to the window. Pulling back the velvet & lace draperies, she looked out the plasteel window towards the Brandon habitat. She could just see the blinking navlights of their landing beacon several kilometers distant, even as the harlequin brilliance of Jupiter loomed in the background.


Scattered across the vista were the dull red motes of dozens of shuttle drives flitting hither and yon, punctuated by the actinic glare of the pulsedrives used by the tugs pulling ore barges out of Io's orbit. The stationkeeping thrusters of the hundreds of gas mining platforms were constantly firing in automatic adjustment, and seemed to ring the giant planet above in enormous strands of cool blue pearls.


So much activity out here, Jane mused. Thousands of busy little drones, rushing to & fro. It was no wonder there were so many mishaps. One such accident was why her father lay confined in his bed, connected to wires and breathing through tubes. The vacuum of space was quite unforgiving, to villein and Viscount alike.


Jane glanced back at the invitation, the ribbon now ripped and the wax seal ground into the rug. The intended couple would have to make the rounds of Society prior to the wedding. Dozens of social calls to the doyennes, dowagers and dowdies scattered amongst the colonies. The Forms must be observed, lest you find yourself receiving the "cut direct" along the promenade during the annual Emperor's Summoning.


Jane idly tapped her fingernails on the window frame as she contemplated the scene. So many visits. So many opportunities for a tragic mishap. What a shame it would be if anything should happen to the blessed pair before they were legally wed.


What a shame indeed...



Chapter 2

(by Phoenix)



Jane stood near the wall watching the great panther of a man who had just entered Lord Dunwoody’s ballroom. He moved with grace, but there was an undisguised danger to him as well. There was power, held in check expertly - whether by the superior cut of his coat or pure will, Jane knew not. He was fascinating and Jane felt herself staring. She forced herself to look away and casually looked back again to continue her examination. His eyes were obsidian, his mouth a soft curve, and his hair was jet and shone in the light. But still, the power and the danger were palpable and marked this man as predator.

Jane shook herself out of these fanciful notions and again scanned the room. Lucy was holding court in a corner of Viscounts and Barons while Sophia seemed to be speaking softly with a like-minded bluestocking. Julia had stayed home with Father, still too young to be “out” and still a bit rough around the edges. Further examination of the room brought her eyes to Lady Sefton herself, the prime reason Jane and her sisters were in attendance this evening.

Lady Sefton had descended upon Jane shortly after she had rued the grinding of the wax seal of the offensive invitation into the rug. Jane hadn’t been particularly pleased to see one of Almack’s Lady Patronesses on her doorstep unannounced when she was so out of sorts, but the visit had proved fruitful. Lady Sefton had refused to share her reasons, but she had been quite emphatic that Jane and the other Misses Steele “To Town” and partake of The Season. Lady Sefton came with billets in hand and promises of entre into the best society. She had explained that hiding out in the country would only serve the purposes of certain cads and harlots whom Lady Sefton had had the good grace not to name. Indeed, Lady Sefton had seemed to want to make Sir Percy and Lady Charlotte squirm and, as it played to Jane’s goals as well, it was done.

The jaguar, as Jane now thought of the dangerous dark haired man, had disappeared, so Jane returned her attention to the spectacle. Charlotte Brandon, with her too-red mouth and her too-low bodice was up to her old tricks, holding court with a covey of the worst rakes of society. One reached out to Charlotte and she slapped his hand playfully, her eyes belying the actions of her gloved hand. Sir Percy, his misery apparent, seemed to watch all of this as though calculating the time to his cuckolding. By Jane’s calculations he wouldn’t have long to wait.

Checking once more to see that Lucy and Sophia were engaged for the time being on the dance floor, she departed for a quieter corner. She took some fresh air and pondered the night sky for a time but too many amorous couples sought a stolen moment on the terrace and she became uncomfortable. Her heart ached for comfort, so she sought out the solace of her own mind. In time she found her way to a library, Dunwoody’s private sanctum no doubt, and slipped behind the heavy walnut door. She removed her gloves and sat on the comfortably worn divan, trying to locate peace.

Her eyes closed, she soon had the unmistakable feeling that she was being watched. Her eyes flew open and she found herself the object of her jaguar’s amusement. His dark eyes glinted with unleashed laughter and his smile winked at her.

“I beg your apologies, my lady, for intruding upon your nap.” This was said with a broadening of his smirk.

Jane’s manners, once on tour, came back in a hurry. She gracefully rose from the divan and began replacing her gloves. “Sir, it is no intrusion. I merely needed some peace and sought out this quiet cove. I shall leave you to it.”

“No, please, Lady…” The unasked question dangled.

“Steele.” Jane answered.

“Lady Steele, since we lack an attendant to do the deed, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Drake Bayning, lately of Ceylon.”

Jane curtsied, dropping her eyes elegantly. “Sir.”

“Lady Steele, having found you so, I wonder, do you find these balls as inane as I do?” He was teasing her now, his eyes told her so.

“Mr. Bayning, to be honest,” it was her eyes glinting now, “it is not so much the music or the dancing that fatigues me as the incessant prattle and preening.”

Drake affected an air of mock dandy’s horror. “Mademoiselle, you have cut me to the quick! Is my society so objectionable?”

They both laughed, but were interrupted by a couple entering through the door opposite them. The young man looked to Drake and said, “Wrenroth,” then nodded, ready to find another cozy alcove. Before he could lead his lady away however, she screamed.

And kept screaming. It was shrill and cut the air sharply, splintering the idyll of moments before.

After what seemed like an eternity to the ears of all in the room, the woman finally stopped long enough to draw breath. As she did so, she raised her arm and pointed to the area behind the divan. Neither Drake nor Jane could see what transfixed the lady, so they moved to afford themselves a view.

Drake watched the blood drain from Lady Jane’s face and moved to catch her should she swoon at the sight of the dead body. This lady, it seemed, was made of steel indeed, for she seemed to reinforce her defenses rapidly.

Drake, of course, knew the dead woman. It was Charlotte Brandon, his one-time fiancée, and the reason he had returned to England. Damn her, he thought again as he had done a great many times before. Damn her beautiful face and her sinful body. Damn her for not being half the woman or half the angel her outward appearance implied.

Jane knew nothing of Drake’s reaction to Charlotte’s untimely demise. Shock was tumbling over her senses and her mind was whirling. She had been shocked at the initial sight of the usually over-animated Charlotte so quieted, but she had since grown used to that. What she couldn’t get used to or look past was the knife sticking out of Charlotte’s chest or the way her bodice had slipped to expose a glimpse of nipple on blood stained breast. It was unseemly, Jane knew, but all she could think of was how the color matched Charlotte’s lips.

And then, there was the shock of learning that the jaguar was the Marquess of Wrenroth. She averted her eyes from Charlotte’s prone and bleeding body and found her slightly shaking gloved hand held firmly in Wrenroth’s firm grip. How did that happen, she wondered.

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posted by Phoenix | 12:11 AM


>2 Comments:

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous oddybobo said...

Intriguing!

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Christina said...

Love it!

Please keep up the fantastic work!

; )

 

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