It was quite difficult for Eleanor to describe what propelled her, but she was helplessly attracted to Cephas the servant.
It had been a week since the Crisiotas first came under Mr. LaLauren’s guardianship, and he left them to their own devices for the most part: yes, their tutors soon arrived to continue their lessons, allowing Mr. LaLauren to leave early and not return until later afternoons on a daily basis as the household ran smoothly under the head servant’s hand.
While Sirius managed to kill time with his many supervised ventures into LaLauren’s park, Eleanor attempted fruitlessly to entertain herself with writing and reading, yet it had became obvious to her that Cephas in his silent watch over her (as the master arranged with a paranoia he shared with the Crisiotas’ mother), was far more interesting than any written word.
And yes, Eleanor had to admit that the initial attraction was shallow as she was simply drawn by his features and frame, both of which, once she became accustomed to his subtle gloom, recommended him strongly in her eyes. Though her focus slowly shifted to the comfort and relief his very presence brought her. And of course, she called herself foolish as all was temporary and the interest would have to pass.
Still this did not prevent her from trying to understand the servant better; she would ask him to help her find a book that she deliberately hid just so they might have time to strike up conversation beyond the formalities, or ask him to take her to tour some parts of the park that might be deemed too treacherous for her to go alone so she might be justified in taking his arm, or she might just have him read to her (his vocabulary surprised her much as it did not occur to her that a mere servant could surpass her in literature or education) some of the more amorous poetry (some composed by no other than herself) in pretense that was part of her tutor’s assignment.
One such afternoon, when Cephas quietly read to her one of her sonnets, he stopped before the couplet, “Lady Eleanor.”
“As much as I esteem your attention, I do not think I am deserving of it.”
Oh, and she was also foolish to think that he wouldn’t notice, “I…I am not sure what y-you are talking about, Cephas.” She blushed profusely and turned away from his resigned smile.
“I am not suggesting that I am not affected, it is just that…” He was still so cool, calm, a slight smile to indicate the lack of a counterfeit facade. “…I am in no place to taint you with my feelings, Lady Eleanor, should I remind you that I am –”
“– Eleanor would be fine,” She stood up, not knowing exactly what she intended to do with such a gesture as she gathered enough courage (or nonsense) to face him again. “I don’t care, Cephas, I just…I just…” She realized how childish she sounded, and it only got worse as she blurted out. “I love you.”
His face was shadowed by the rays of sunlight that fell through the opened curtains in the drawing room, and Eleanor chose to not attribute the slight crimson upon his cheeks to the warmth of the sun, “…Lady Eleanor…” He also got up to his feet, though more in a fashion of planning an escape out of embarrassment.
She acted out of instinct, really, as she closed the distance between them and seized his collar, pulling him into a kiss. While she was nearly as surprised as he was, she allowed herself to be lost against the contact, releasing his collar and wrapping her hands about his neck. His shoulders tensed, but eased against her as he returned her embrace and her kiss, hands hiding their tremor as they fought without success the urge to pull her closer.
It was not until they parted when Cephas suddenly found the resolve to push against her, gripping her shoulders firmly as to distance her while he caught his shaky breath, “El-Eleanor, we can-cannot…I…”
Only then, as she beheld the panic in his eyes did she realize she was ashamed, but before she could apologize Cephas turned and hurried away, leaving her with a pounding heart and shame.
She did not see Cephas again until much later, when the household retired for rest. A light knocking upon her door interrupted her turning in her sleeplessness.
The door squeaked open to reveal Sirius, “Eleanor?” The boy closed the door behind him.
“Did you hear that just now?”
The boy inched to her bed and sat down, dangling his feet, “The music.”
“What? You must have been dreaming, Sirius, there had been…”
Then she heard it, too, the thin, barely audible sounds that nearly resembled that of a meowing cat.
Out of their curiosity, the Crisiotas decided to follow it: as they drew closer the sound paused, and adopted an entirely different tone. Delicate and sweet, though playful enough for Eleanor to recognize it as a violin. Who would be playing such a thing at this hour? Despite the wavering shadows that the light she took casted to rouse their fears, they were enchanted, so they allowed themselves to be drawn up the stairs towards the corner of the wing. They passed less cared for rooms and more flights of stairs until they found themselves at the end of the hallway three floors above their rooms, with only a heavy door between them and the music.
Before Eleanor could object, Sirius pushed it open. Darkness and sudden silence greeted them, and Eleanor briefly noted the covers that reflected white with the little light that the lamp in her hand provided. There was a stirring of shadows, and a grip that pulled both Crisiotas into the room before hastily shutting the door noiselessly.
Eleanor was shocked to be greeted by the puzzled faces of a circle of children, the eldest one of them probably not much older than Sirius. She also noted their clothes, old and patched, and from the loose sleeves peeked bony hands. Standing by the door with the instrument responsible for this unwelcomed interruption in his hand was no other than Cephas, whose obvious attempt at avoiding her eyes was visible even in the dim light as he addressed the children instead.
“Go, go back now,” He shushed one that whined for not having heard his favorite piece yet. “I will play it first thing next time, okay?” With a reassuring pat on the boy’s head along with answers to some quiet requests for goodnight kisses that would ward off nightmares, the children went towards the corner of the room, where a slight creak made Eleanor infer the existence of a trapdoor.
“My apologies, Lady and Lord Crisiota, for having disturbed you…it is merely a little entertainment for the little ones,” He had his back to them as he restored his instrument into its case, sliding it under one of more obscure covers in one smooth action. “I would….please, would it be possible for you to keep this from the master?”
“Of course, of course…we didn’t intend to interrupt…”
With that Cephas took the light from Eleanor, extinguishing with a soft breath, “The light probably already woke the master. No worries, I will lead you two back.”
“Doesn’t the master rest in the wing on the opposite side?”
“…Should we just say that he is a little more sensitive than the normal mind?” Cephas took her hand and Sirius’s, leading them in a swift stride down the path they took.
Just before they reached the hallway leading to their chambers, a careless misstep from Sirius lurched Cephas forward to catch him, in which his elbow brushed over a vase of flowers. Eleanor made a grab for it, but it slipped out of the reach of her fingers and crashed into the floor.
Cephas cursed under his breath, “We must hurry, if it wasn’t aware before, it is now.”
Cephas didn’t bother to acknowledge her inquiry as a distant look of anguish overtook him, burying him until he lowered his head and led them along. In a mighty hurry, they arrived upon their room.
“Please, do not leave your rooms no matter what you hear,” His whisper was raspy against her ear before he reluctantly released her hand, shutting the door firmly against her many questions.
“Shut it, Sirius.” She pressed her ears against the door, and a lofty silence greeted her.
Perhaps Cephas was mad?
Just when she was going to shrug off her concerns a loud clatter was heard, and she sprung back to her position pressed against the door. From the muffled sounds she made out bits and pieces of conversation that raised her hairs.
A low growl of a voice responded, “The master merely request your presence.”
“No, no, please…no…”
There was an audible struggle, and Eleanor fought the urge to burst out of the door.
“Ugh…” Then silence triumphed, only disturbed by the dull sound, of what Eleanor later learned, a body being dragged down the carpeted floors.
Eleanor crumbled to the floor against the door, torn between prioritizing her brother and her safety to that of a mere acquaintance that she just so happened to adore.
The night stilled with indecision, and the Crisiotas could only find terror in place of sleep.