Stephanie peered out her bedroom window into the snow shrouded darkness. The gas light at the end of the drive gave a monstrous appearance to a gnarled old oak tree. She felt as if its twisted branches were reaching for her. She had never been the least bit afraid in her grandmother’s house, but then again she’d never been alone. She shivered and turned away wondering if she would be able to sleep tonight.
It was then that her eye caught a glint of something shiny. The baroque key lay stark against the cherry wood of the dresser. It hadn't been there when she had dusted this morning, she was sure of it. As she picked it up, she felt the chill of premonition. There was only one piece of furniture in the rambling house that she hadn't been able to open—her grandmother’s desk. Her grandmother had died in the spring and left her her entire estate. But she would give anything for another day of her grandmother's company.
Flames in the fireplace cast shadows that skittered on the walls as she crossed the room and crept downstairs to the library. As Stephanie opened the door, an image of her grandmother seated at the desk tending her correspondence flashed into her mind. The stab of pain her death had brought hadn't lessened.
She ran her fingers over the rosewood inlay on the antique desk. She remembered when Hedy had bought it. She was twelve years old, and they had been in France. Hedy’s second husband, John Brighton had insisted on buying it for Hedy. Stephanie’s hands shook as she inserted the key in the lock. It clicked as her heart gave a thump. She lowered the lid. Neatly stacked monogrammed stationary graced the leather insert and a fountain pen and inkwell nestled in the corner. Apart from that, it was empty. Stephanie slumped in the chair disappointed. She had hoped for a letter, something written in her grandmother’s lovely handwriting that would ease her pain. She put her head down on the desk, her fingers tapping the back of the desk abstractly.
When the wood gave way, she thought she had broken the desk and sat back sickened that she had damaged something her grandmother cherished. Upon closer investigation, she realized there was a secret compartment, and when she reached inside, she was surprised to find a black book. Whatever was written in the book must have been important to her grandmother, and because it was hidden, it was also private. She examined the cover carefully. There was no title, but on the spine where the author's name should have been---was written, The Feathered Pen. The handwriting was exquisite as if it the book had been written by a quilled pen.
She went into the drawing room, curled up in an overstuffed chair and began to read:
On the day that the babe was born, Wizard was in his den at Ludwig Castle conjuring up a potent when his messenger, Celeste, arrived. The celestial hummingbird fluttered about chirping rapidly. “The babe has arrived. You must hurry to place the spells. The monks have begun to chant over her. Already they have given her many gifts.”
With a tap of his staff and an uttered invocation, Wizard flashed into the sanctum of the monastery—blinding the monks.
“God save her,” they cried out.
As they struggled to find their vision, Wizard snatched the babe away from the head monk, and brazenly held the infant above him, turning to the four points of the compass. His eyes changed from blue to fiery red. At each point, he repeated, “I claim this babe to become the bride of Prince Damien, the Lord of Ludwig Castle. When she is nineteen and nine days, the dark and the light shall be joined together. At such time, she will lose her memory, and forget her past life, her family, her friends, and live for the sole purpose of serving Prince Damien. The spell of The Promise has been cast and cannot be broken.”
When the phone rang breaking the silence, she started. She knew before answering it; it would be her father. He had called her every night since her grandmother died. She pictured him in at his bedroom window looking down at Brighton House from the mansion that loomed over the countryside—Stratford Place—her family home. Her hand spread protectively over the book as if she were trying to keep it from his sight. She wanted to keep it secret.
“Your lights are still on. What are you doing up so late, honey?” he asked. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”
“No, nothing like that, Daddy,” she said. “I guess I lost track of time. I’m just heading up to bed.”
“I almost forgot to tell you that I asked Thomas Shrock to come tomorrow to cut some wood and cut the tree. He’ll be there early.”
“Oh…” Stephanie said taken by surprise. “I’ll make sure I’m up early.” She had spent the entire day cleaning and unpacking and had planned on organizing her closet. Besides, she wasn’t sure she was ready to see Thomas Shrock—just yet. But it was too late now to change the plans. She had mixed emotions as she turned off the lights: grateful that her parents were close by, but also feeling that her privacy was compromised.
Stephanie was enchanted by the tale, although she wondered why her grandmother had kept a fairy tale hidden under lock and key. She took the book up to bed with her thinking she would read a little more, but when she climbed between the fresh sheets and her head sank down into the billowy pillow, she was overcome by drowsiness. She fell into a deep sleep with the book in her hand. It was as if the book itself had lulled her to sleep, shrouding her from the noises that big houses make; she was oblivious to the sounds of the heavy winds and the branches tapping at the window.